It was 1970 and Tompkins Wake was looking to recruit school leavers.
Sixteen-year-old Jenny Gilmore had been thinking about training to be a teacher but the cost of moving away from Hamilton to study was difficult. So a nervous Jenny turned up at Tompkins Wake for an interview, in her Hamilton Girls’ High uniform and her school bag in hand.
“I knew that if I got a job, then I could earn money straight away. I thought working in a legal office would pay reasonably and the rest I guess you could say is history,” says Gilmore.
In November last year, Gilmore celebrated 50 years of continuous service with the firm.
“I never thought I’d be here this long,” she laughs. “But I’ve had so many opportunities along the way. And that’s the key I think – take those opportunities and run with them, even if you feel like you might be a bit out of your comfort zone.”
Tompkins Wake has always prided itself on providing opportunities for staff to progress and learn, which is something Gilmore embraced from the beginning.
She started in the accounts department and went on to become a legal secretary.
“When a staff member moved to Auckland a legal executive role was available. I remember I was given the role for showing aptitude and doing things right. It was, and still is, a fantastic role.”
As part of her promotion, Gilmore studied part-time for three years at what was then Waikato Polytechnic to qualify as a legal executive in the late 1970s. She later completed a Waikato University Diploma for Legal Executives in early 2000.
“I was working full-time, but throughout the time I studied I had the full support of the team at Tompkins Wake.”
When Gilmore started, legal executives only worked in conveyancing so that’s where she has specialised. Today, legal executives work in other areas such as estates, trusts and litigation. But it’s working with property clients that makes Jenny light up.
“I love dealing with first home buyers… the excitement and nervousness in them. It’s lovely being able to guide them, advise them on little things they need to know along the way.
“It is rewarding acting for all clients and particularly when I am now acting for a fourth generation in the one family.”
She remembers assisting first home buyers in Huntly.
“We set up a little office there when Coal Corporation was selling off their miners’ homes. I remember working with the people buying them and today I am still acting for some of those first home buyers and their children.
It’s really special.”
As well as enjoying working with long-term clients, she has also relished the opportunity to sit on the NZ Institute of Legal Executives National Council with the aim of furthering the roles and recognition of Legal Executives. Gilmore was an independent member of the council for 12 years, and for four and a half of those, she was president.
Her advice to new graduates or young people starting a new job is simple: “Learn as much as you can, accept the responsibility you are given, and seek support and advice from colleagues as much as possible.”