Managing Partner Kate Waterford spoke with Emma McDonald for this feature originally posted on the HerCanberra website.
Kate Waterford is driven by two core values—a passion for social justice, and a love of family.
The Managing Partner at Maliganis Edwards Johnson also displays some enviable skills at carving out time dedicated to both, having recently welcomed her third child.
Fitting it all in does involves some early mornings and discipline regarding emails, but we will unpack that shortly.
Kate’s CV is impressive and at just 40 she has risen to become Managing Partner of MEJ, specialising in medical negligence.
She is on the front-line in representing people whose lives have been irrevocably harmed when healthcare goes wrong.
In it she advocates for people of all ages, genders and backgrounds.
But Kate has a particular passion for championing women and has become something of a force in the area of birth trauma.
Her personal experience has played into this as Kate has endured her own series of birth-related issues ranging from post-partem haemorrhage, to, most recently, IVF and some health complications relating to her third (and she declares final!) pregnancy.
“I find it a special privilege to connect with women and their families, and I find that a lot of people who’ve been through some sort of birth trauma really want to connect with someone who understands.”
Kate spent several years chairing of the Australasian Birth Trauma Association, an organisation which provides support services to women who have suffered birth trauma, and education to professionals working across maternal health services.
She is currently a member of the Physiotherapy Board of Australia, on the Australian Institute of Company Directors Council in the ACT, and is on board committees for the Fred Hollows Foundation and Amnesty International (global).
Meanwhile, she is working on a PhD at the ANU College of Law where she is focusing her thesis on the separation of powers under the Australian Constitution.
“From my teenaged years I have had a strong desire to defend the little guy, to support David standing up against Goliath. And I’ve always been interested in talking, arguing, debating and pulling apart the issues,” she says.
Indeed, her father is renowned Canberra journalist Jack Waterford and her mother Susan Bennett’s dedicated Public Service career centred on social justice and Indigenous health. Kate’s maternal grandfather, Sir Arnold Lucas Bennett, also served as a legal inspiration, having serving as a King’s Counsel, then Queen’s Counsel, and President of the Bar Association of Queensland during the 1950’s.
One can only imagine what robust dinner table discussions took place in the Waterford family when Kate was growing up with her three sisters.
The importance of family was cemented by both Kate’s parents being one in eight children and gifting Kate “thousands of cousins”.
“I grew up surrounded by babies and always knew I would have children.”
Which brings us to exactly how Kate has combined a high-flying legal career with three children in eight years.
She credits her hands-on and supportive husband and a family-friendly law firm in MEJ.
In particular, Kate notes that when she was a younger lawyer, she looked up to the then Managing Partner Deb Rolfe, AM, who was raising three boys when she became the firm’s first female partner.
“I watched Deb do the job with children and I saw MEJ was flexible. It was never a question of if I could do it but more a question of how I would do it.”
Bearing in mind that family life never quite goes to plan, Kate tries “on a good week” to be in the office from 7am for some quiet and intensive work.
“If I’ve got a lot on my plate, I might come in at five or six in the morning because I have always had this bookend at the other end of the day, which is that unless there is something big going on such as a hearing or mediation, I always leave at 3pm for the school run and then I spend the afternoon with my kids doing their after-school activities.”
If she has to, Kate may pick up her laptop once the kids are asleep, but she is also fairly methodical about keeping work in work time and allowing herself to fully focus on her family in the evenings and weekends.
“I’m very focused on work when I am at work, and I am very good at prioritising and delegating. I know there are only so many hours in the day so I know what I need to get done and I’m good at not allowing myself to get distracted by the less important things.”
“I need to be fully present with my kids once my work is completed…although I am available for any urgent calls.”
“I always feel that I owe more to my clients than answering their emails in those snatched moments when I’m at home. When I am working on their case, I want to be really fully present and thinking about what’s best for them and how to progress things as opposed to just answering an email when I’m outside, preoccupied with the kids.”
And right now, that preoccupation is staring at the tiny bundle in her lap and wanting to soak him up because she knows he won’t be this tiny for much longer.
“I won’t say you can always have a perfect work/life balance, but that’s the ideal that I try to work towards. And it works. Most of the time anyway,” she says with a laugh.