Catherine Henry is one of the Hunter’s leading and best-known lawyers. With a reputation for playing hard but fair, Catherine brings three decades of experience to benefit her clients.
She’s not afraid to speak out and to tackle big social issues impacting her clients and the community, such as improved mental health care, decriminalising abortion, real regulatory reform of Australia’s aged care system and a nation plan to tackle elder abuse.
Born and bred in Newcastle, Catherine practiced law in Sydney for almost 20 years before returning home and establishing Catherine Henry Lawyers in 2009.
- What makes a good leader?
I know a lot is written about what makes a good leader but what works for me and what I’ve tried to be guided by in my professional career is three things. Firstly, it’s not all about you, it’s about your team and it’s very limiting to think “what’s good for my career” and “what’s good for my profile”. You really have to nurture and develop those who work with you.
I think the second thing is that I like to focus on developing the self-esteem of those that work with me, and make sure that they feel as good as can be about their career. I’m very fortunate to lead a very able team of lawyers and managers and support people. I am mindful of where they are in their career and develop that.
The third thing is to think that we’re all a bit of a work in progress as leaders. I feel that you really have to be mindful of – we are all told to play to one’s strengths and weaknesses – so I am very conscious of owning up to things that don’t go according to plan or something that could be done better. I own up to it and I think you just got to ride with that or you have to apologise, or you could recognise that you could do things better.
- There are now as many women as men lawyers, but only 18% of women lawyers are decision makers in law firms. What needs to be done to increase the proportion of female leaders in law?
This is something very close to my heart. First thing that needs to be done is to employ more women, and I certainly do that. Of my 33 staff, all but 3 are women. I like to think that I champion women, inside the firm and outside. I always think about people I know who have come across, or people who I work with who would be appropriate nominees for awards. So as Elizabeth Broderick, the well-known sex discrimination commissioner said, “you can’t be, what you can’t see”. So its really important to do your bit to get women seen.
I’m very proud that one of the things that we’ve done with our firm is to implement what we call an equitable briefing policy. What that means is that every time we consider in a case the need to brief the barrister, we always consider a woman for that role. I don’t know if there is another firm in Newcastle that would have such a policy; it has happened and is happening around the country slowly.
But again, women barristers are our future judges, they’re future politicians, they’re future decision makers in areas of public life, so we have to have women visible and represented at every level.
- What motivates and drives you?
Every day I feel that I am doing and helping others do good work, important work and work that ultimately plays a positive role in people’s lives. I know that sounds a bit cliché but the sort of work that my firm is involved in plays a role in better health care. Maintaining standards of professional responsibility are important principles and I really feel that we do good things in our workplace.
- You have lived and worked in both the Hunter and in Sydney. Why is the Hunter a good place to do business?
Newcastle is ultimately a town based on relationships. I think the relationships that you develop are in Newcastle inevitably lead to good business opportunities. I’ve been mindful of that since I’ve returned from living in Sydney. I’ve always been very involved and engaged in the politics of law and that’s always been a passion for me.
Less so since having my business, I have to say, but I still believe in making a contribution. I don’t make the contribution for any selfish reasons, it’s just who I am. But along the way I feel that I’ve built relationships which have made me more visible and have helped me promote and grow my business.
- Which Hunter leader inspires you and why?
Well two hunter leaders that have inspired me both happen to be women. Rosemarie Milsom; I am very inspired by what she’s done. She had a simple idea, and I know that there are writers festivals around the country, but this is quite an intimate one which she has developed, so she has really created a niche within the domain of writers festivals. I go to a lot of them around the country and elsewhere and I really feel Newcastle’s festival is quite exceptional.
The other person who inspires me is Justine Gaudry, who is the person behind the Olive Tree Markets. So both of these women had an idea, they worked really hard on their craft and they developed their business concept and model to something really quite unique.