December 2018


From left, Morgan Coakle partners John Bierre, Kavita, Briar Webster and Kevin Muir. Photo: New Zealand Law Society.

Simplicity’s the key

by Kate Tilley, Resolve Editor

Distilling complex issues down to their simple essence is Kavita Deobhakta's philosophy for her legal cases and she'll bring that philosophy to her new role as NZILA's vice president.

Kavita, a partner in the Auckland office of Morgan Coakle, loves the variety insurance law offers. The depth and breadth of knowledge; the strange and the straightforward cases – that's what keeps Kavita interested every day.

"I like to keep things simple in my life, and my cases," she told Resolve. "If I can't explain [a case] to my mum, I can't explain it to a judge.

"I like things to be simple, technically correct and with a pragmatic solution."

Kavita was only a year old when her family moved to New Zealand from East Africa. She graduated from Auckland University with a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) and joined boutique insurance law firm Heaney Jones as a law  clerk in 1994.

She says, echoing the words of many in the industry, she hadn't sought insurance law as a career path. "I just fell into it. I initially didn't know anything about insurance except that everyone needs it."

When Heaney Jones split in 1996, Kavita joined Jones Fee and three years later moved to Phillips Fox (now DLA Piper). She joined Morgan Coakle in late 2004, because the firm enabled her to totally focus on her favoured field of insurance law. She joined the partnership in the civil and insurance litigation team in July 2011.

While at Phillips Fox, Kavita worked with an NZILA founder, Tony Paterson, who encouraged her to join. She became a national committee member in 2013.

She says it is important for the industry to have a knowledge-based forum that promotes industry issues and enables discussion. NZILA is a focal point for the industry to get together, network, and share industry-relevant information, not just profession-specific learning. Full and frank discussions, under Chatham House rules, are a hallmark of NZILA discussion forums.

Kavita is pleased the new committee, elected at the AGM at NZILA's annual conference in Christchurch in September, has greater South Island representation and broader industry representation.

New president Myles Noble asked her to take on the vice president's role and she agreed because "it's a good opportunity to be involved in shaping the future of the association".

She says the fact government departments, judges, and other senior people in the industry are happy to speak at NZILA events demonstrates the respect the association has garnered across the industry.

Kavita is convenor of the 2019 NZILA conference committee and co-convenor, with an NZ Insurance Council representative, of the liability insurance discussion group.

She is looking forward to showcasing her home city, Auckland, at the 2019 conference.

Asked what NZILA could do better, Kavita says the insurance industry and NZILA need greater diversity. "Not everyone in the industry fits into a certain box and NZILA needs to evolve to meet the needs of a changing industry.

"It's been a traditionally male-dominated industry but must be more inclusive. As the older generation retires, insurance must be seen as a destination for young people and those from diverse cultures."

But she agrees change is happening, with more women and people from "different walks of life and non-insurance backgrounds" joining the industry.

Kavita and her husband Sadesh, a physiotherapist whom she met at university, are parents of a 12-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old son.

She has always loved horses and now has three of her own – well one's on loan – and competes in dressage competitions. She rides several times a week and her children are learning to ride.

Kavita's a self-described compulsive planner and loves cooking. She sorts menus in advance for the meals she cooks every night for the family.

Given her love of good food and wine, delegates can rest assured both will be on the menu at SkyCity next September for the NZILA annual conference. "We want to celebrate what's uniquely Auckland," she told Resolve.

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Resolve is the official publication of the Australian Insurance Law Association and
the New Zealand Insurance Law Association.