Laini Bennett is the Head of Content at LegalVision ANZ, a Australian law firm that provides cost-effective and high-quality legal services through an innovative model.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
As a teenager, I had my heart set on becoming a journalist. I loved reading the news and writing, and had visions of being a glamorous news reporter on TV.
While studying for a Bachelor of Arts, I got a job at a community newspaper and was fortunate to land a cadetship there when I finished my degree – especially as there was a recession at the time and no major papers were offering positions.
While my career was off to a good start, at home, things weren’t great. My beautiful mother, who was an artist, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease when she was only in her 40s. I was devastated.
To say my early 20s were challenging, juggling work and helping Dad to care for her, is an understatement. I was lucky to have a very supportive partner.
Nonetheless, I pushed on and became a feature writer for That’s Life! magazine, then the second biggest magazine in Australia. I was heavily pregnant with my first child and at work when I received a call that Mum had passed away. She was 58.
After maternity leave, I returned to That’s Life! but I was the only journalist with a baby, and while my colleagues tried to be supportive, it wasn’t easy. Journalism didn’t pay much and my (now) husband and I had a mortgage and a child in daycare.
There were no government subsidies for childcare, then, either. My husband’s work was too far away for him to help with pick up, so every day, I would run like a crazy woman to get to the childcare centre before it shut.
Journalists were expected to take turns working through Christmas, but my childcare closed during that period and there were no holiday programs for kids under five. So, when I was told I couldn’t take the time off to be with my child, and had no alternative childcare options, it was time to leave.
Luckily, I found work as an editor for legal publisher CCH Australia (Wolters Kluwer). Not long after starting, I was walking down a hall when I spotted a painting of a striped vase with flowers that looked familiar. Would you believe it was one of my mother’s?! I took it as a sign that I was where I was meant to be.
I was at CCH for eight years, and it was during that period that the digital revolution began. Everything went from print and CD to online. Google became big and publishers were competing with free legal information online.
It was both challenging, and exciting. It wasn’t just the industry that was changing, either. My husband was studying for his MBA part-time, and while editing his essays at night I discovered the world of management and leadership.
I thought: “that’s where I want to be”. Every time I was offered a project or more responsibility, I took it. I wanted to learn, and I wanted to make a difference. It meant I was very busy at work and, after putting my children to bed, would continue working late into the night.
It was challenging, especially when the kids seemed to pick up every bug known to mankind at kindy, but I thrived and within three years, I was Editor-in-Chief. I gained a wealth of experience during my time at CCH, becoming a manager, launching new products, driving sales and marketing campaigns.
As a result, I was able to move into more senior roles in other legal and regulatory publishers, first as Publishing Director for SAI Global, then later, with LexisNexis as their Executive Director of Content, Australia.
By now, I had managers of managers reporting to me, and I had P&L responsibility along with business and product development and operational management. Certainly, very different to the career I’d envisaged in high school, but very gratifying.
However, all the financial reporting was doing my head in and I wanted to upgrade my skills. The best courses for non-accountants were part of an MBA, so I decided it was my turn to study. By this stage, my father was very sick with Parkinson’s disease and I chose to study full time and work part time, so I had the flexibility to take care of him.
I took him to medical appointments, organised his carers, paid his bills, everything. I was a bit nervous about studying again after so many years, but found I really enjoyed it and was delighted to receive awards for Outstanding Academic Performance. Sadly, Dad passed just before I finished my MBA. He would have been so proud to see me in my cap and gown!
During my studies, I worked as an editor for trade publisher Westwick Farrow. It was great being back at the ‘coalface’ and I really enjoyed writing again. I established a Women in Leadership series for one of the magazines, which proved popular. I wanted to share the stories of female leaders whose lessons learned would empower and motivate other women to pursue their life goals.
I’ve since parlayed that series into my own leadership blog, Birds of a Feather, at lainibennett.com. I’ve interviewed some amazing women, such as OzHarvest CEO Ronni Kahn AO, and Engineers Australia CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans AM. When I’m not working at my ‘day job’, I am interviewing inspiring women for my blog.
After my MBA, I pivoted out of traditional publishers and joined law firm LegalVision as Head of Content for Australia and New Zealand. This role brings together my legal publishing and management experience with cutting edge content development.
I love how innovative LegalVision is. We have the most visited legal website in Australia! This is all down to our vast database of freely available information services, including over 5,000 articles, publications, webinars, and business tools, for which I am currently responsible.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
Since COVID, I work from home (more on this below). I start my day with exercise, which energises me and gets my day off to a productive start.
A typical LegalVision day might include a brainstorming session with lawyers from our different practice areas. We’re always generating new content ideas that will educate and empower business owners.
Our firm is unique in that all our lawyers write articles, and I regularly conduct article writing training for new team members. I firmly believe anyone can learn to write with the right encouragement.
Each day, I work closely with my editors to ensure our content meets our style and search engine optimisation (SEO) requirements. I also spend time with our remote team of legal writers, who are based in New Zealand and down Australia’s Eastern Seaboard. In between this, I lead a wide variety of projects, from new webinars to new publications.
In my own time, I work on my leadership blog, researching and writing about wonderful female leaders.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Yes, it does! Pre-COVID, I worked from home two days a week, three in the office. But since COVID, I come into the office one day a fortnight.
Given most of my team is remote, it doesn’t matter where I work, so long as I can hold virtual meetings with them. It’s important to make remote workers feel like they’re part of a team, to communicate regularly and provide clear deliverables.
The COVID pandemic demonstrated that remote work is possible, yet, I’m already hearing stories about companies who are forcing their teams back into the office on a full-time basis.
With today’s technology, what’s the justification? If people want the right to work from home, then they need to deliver on output, just as they would in the office. If they want to continue to have the benefits of a remote lifestyle, even one day a week, that’s a strong motivation to do a great job while working remotely.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
What work-life balance means to me now is quite different to when my kids were little and both my husband and I were full time in senior management roles, with him studying part-time. Then, it was about staying afloat.
Ensuring I had quality time with the family – and each other – while still delivering on our jobs. Looking back, I should have been better at saying ‘no’ to taking on more work.
Now, work-life balance is about ensuring I don’t give into the temptation of working longer hours, because my office is at home. My husband and I book regular getaways, even if it’s a night or two at a hotel in the CBD, so we can have a break and a change of scenery.
It gives us something to look forward to. One of our best investments ever has been an outdoor spa. I love sitting out there at night, reading my Kindle. Nothing like a long, hot soak to relax!
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
Moving to remote working on a full-time basis has been the main change.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
If I want to broaden my horizons, I read biographies or leadership books. OzHarvest CEO Ronni Kahn’s bio, A Repurposed Life, is great. Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is really interesting, too.
For relaxing, I enjoy fiction based on fact, so anything by Ken Follett, such as his Century Trilogy and Pillars of the Earth series, and emotional thrillers by Australian author Nicole Trope.
A close friend, Joanne Dannon, is a romance novelist. I’d never read a romance before she started publishing, so now I indulge in those, too. They’re a bit like chocolate – very more-ish!
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
My Kindle! I read voraciously.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Ooh, gosh, there’s so many! I’d love to interview Gail Kelly. And any of the 10 women who are currently CEOs of ASX200 companies would fascinate me.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
These might seem obvious, but here’s a few things that my husband and I have done over the years to free up time and reduce stress:
- Not having to cook every night when you get home from a long day, especially if you have young kids, is a godsend. Cook two large meals on the weekend that will last four nights, and get takeaway the other night. If you can afford it, there’s now lots of companies offering freshly cooked meals or meal ingredient packs. These are good, too.
- Outsource cleaning. Don’t waste your precious weekend or evenings cleaning your home. Pay someone to do it for you – even if it’s fortnightly.
- Probably less relevant in a COVID-led world, but if how you look at work is important to you, choose your clothes the night before. One less decision to be made in the morning when you’re trying to get out the door.
- Pick your battles. For instance, much as you might want the kids to make their beds before leaving for school, is it more important than getting out the door on time?
- Carve out time for you every week, or better still, every day. Whether it’s exercise or reading, whatever you need. The world won’t fall apart if you have some ‘me’ time. You’ll feel better for it and you’ll be more productive thereafter.
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