Kate Waterford’s (LLM ’17) journey into the legal profession featured many winding roads and destinations across various parts of the world. Ultimately, her curiosity about the world and the human stories in it sparked a passion to figure out ways to make the communities she was involved in better places. This eventually led to her pursuing a career in the legal profession, where she currently works as a Partner at Maliganis Edwards Johnson running its busy litigation practice focusing on medical negligence claims.
“I generally represent people whose lives have been affected by major errors in healthcare: perhaps they have suffered a serious injury in hospital; or their baby or other close relative has died as a result of malpractice; or a life-threatening health condition has gone undiagnosed and their window for treatment has closed, meaning they are going to die or suffer unnecessarily,” Kate says.
While the workload can be heavy and draining at times, it allows her to stay true to her commitment of making a positive difference to people’s lives.
“Some of my clients’ stories are incredibly moving, tragic or shocking,” she says.
“I work very hard to get them compensation for what they have been through, so it can be emotionally tough but ultimately satisfying work.”
In addition to her everyday role, Kate is also actively involved in a number of not-for-profit and health organisations. She is the chair the AusCam Freedom Project, an anti-trafficking charity which helps vulnerable young girls in Cambodia; and the Australasian Birth Trauma Association, which supports and advocates for people who have suffered birth trauma.
She also serves on the boards and committees of organisations working on different health and human rights issues, including the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Amnesty International Australia and the Fred Hollows Foundation.
“I juggle a lot of hats as a leader of all of these organisations in my day-to-day life, but I thrive in a busy lifestyle, and I love getting challenged and inspired by the ideas circulating in and cross-pollinating different fields,” she says.
While Kate’s career path towards law was not straight-forward – she had stints as a linguist, an English teacher, and a scuba diving instructor among other roles – she was able to draw inspiration from her family by the time she decided to pursue a career in the legal sector.
Kate’s father, Jack Waterford AM, is well-known for his career as a journalist and commentator at The Canberra Times that spanned nearly 50 years. He also shares the unique distinction of being an ANU Law alumnus, graduating with a Bachelor of Laws in 1986.
Kate has similarly been inspired by her mother, Susan Bennett, who worked on Indigenous health and social justice issues, while her maternal grandfather, Sir Arnold Lucas Bennett, had a distinguished career as a barrister, serving as a King's Counsel, then Queen's Counsel, and President of the Bar Association of Queensland during the 1950s.
“My parents have both had a very significant influence on me, shaping many of my core values and my professional interests,” Kate says.
“They both have a big heart for social justice issues, and my whole life has been filled with family conversations about politics, rights, justice and injustice. I still draw on their guidance all the time on the topics I’m working on in my volunteer roles and at work,” she continues.
Beyond her work and other professional commitments, Kate is currently in the process of completing her PhD at the ANU College of Law, where she is focusing on constitutional law for her thesis.
“My thesis relates to the separation of powers under the Australian Constitution, and how core human rights, such as the rights to liberty, have been protected under our constitutional framework. I am lucky to have the incredible constitutional law guru, Professor James Stellios FAAL, as my supervisor, along with Associate Professor Matthew Zagor, Professor Fiona Wheeler FAAL and others,” she says.
Now in her second stint studying at the ANU, Kate reflects on the experience as something familiar but different altogether.
“A PhD is much more self-directed than a Master of Laws, which is both a benefit and a challenge. I enjoy the depth of engagement with the issues, well beyond what you might get from a single semester of study of an area of law,” she says.
With her multiple hats and day-to-day schedule, Kate stresses the importance of a strong support system that allows her to keep focus on her core values and achieve the successes she’s had to date despite the frenetic pace of it all.
“My life requires a lot of juggling between my various professional and volunteer roles, and it only works because I have an incredible husband, sisters, kids, parents, partners, colleagues, and friends who all encourage me and have my back,” she says.
She also encourages aspiring lawyers looking to advance their careers to look beyond the legal profession to find inspiration.
“I highly recommend getting involved in community life beyond the law firm. I’ve been enriched immeasurably as a person and as a lawyer by all the charity and board work I’ve done in other organisations over the years,” she says.