By John Bowie – LawFuel.co.nz
I’m flatting for the week with some Scarfies, including my daughter, which is a bit like a grimy reality tv show without the cameras. Try as I might to focus on key issues like the LCA, the structure of the Privileges Committee and of course my ongoing concern over judicial superannuation I’m instead focused on reaching the bathroom without incurring a fatal injury. The flat looks like an explosion in a mattress factory. The fridge needs dropping in a vat of detergent for a week. I can see why these guys burn their couches. My God, it’s positively life-threatening. They join the casino club to get cheap meals.
I managed to tear myself away to see Mark Henaghan, Dean of the Otago LawSchool, who kindly and with contagious passion showed my son around the law school to whet his appetite for its offerings. Mark’s very much a Dean-of-the-people and clearly highly popular with the students. He’s a keen enthusiast for the unadorned teaching of law and has developed a good team who enjoy their job and some fun. Indeed his ‘take’ on the legal profession, coming as it did in the aftermath of the final Otago Law Society dinner commemorting the transition of the Society to its new status under the LCA, revealed a refreshingly candid view of an overly-hierarchical and status-obsessed profession. He’s not one for stuffy pomposity, Professor Henaghan.
I’ve only been to Southland three times in my life, all in recent years, but on each occasion the weather has been sublime. As I wandered along Oreti Beach at sunset, where Burt Monroe tested his Indian, I thought it had to be one of the finest sweep of beaches I’ve seen in New Zealand. In fact, Invercargill is in particularly good fettle and the legal scene is as busy as ever with a strong local economy continuing to drive business the lawyers’ way. Interestingly, a Dunedin lawyer told me that in his city there had been around a dozen Australian lawyers, mainly those with greater experience, coming to town in the past year or so, either for education, lifestyle or climate reasons. You may find the climate argument hard to believe, particularly when it was Queenslanders who made the call, but Queensland’s climate is generally hateful at the best of times.
Last Friday Simpson Grierson commercial lawyer Andrew Lewis had his farewell afternoon tea in the Shortland Street offices before heading to Norton Rose, Dubai to join Bell Gully’s Andrew Abernethy, both of whom had been shoulder-tapped for the mid-east office of he fast-expanding City-based firm. The number of roles for senior lawyers continues to expand with expertise sought in a variety of these outposts. Commercial barrister Michael Webb runs the Financial Centre Regulatory Authority in Quatar (under kiwi Chairman and CEO Phillip Thorpe), there’s former Chapman Tripp partner Paul O’Regan in Japan with Clifford Chance and the everready-battery powered James Willis in Melbourne with his long time client Geoffrey Albers, the team who brought you Southern Petroleum and Cue Petroleum et al in the good old days.
While there’s much talk of retrenchment and keeping lids on pots, Galllaway Cook Allan, the result of the 2006 merger of the Dunedin firm and Wanaka’s Blake Horder Gowing, are looking forward to next Friday’s launch of their new, Wanaka digs, a purpose-built, four-partner office with expansive lake views. The new move demonstrates the firm’s confidence in the expanding Wanaka market, notwithstanding a significant property downturn in the lakes district, along with the rest of the country. The firm are also looking forward to a 150-year anniversary for the firm next year.
Tough Times At Law High
There are some tough times ahead for local law firms, according to legal consultant Ashley Balls who draws on many years international consulting experience and a raft of stats to make his point. He foresees significant reduction in firm numbers, which have defied international trends locally by continuing to grow without apparent restraint. Although lawyer numbers per capita are very similar to the UK, the number of firms has grown to amost 1600 over the ten years’ to 2007, a 27% increase. By contrast, the UK has seen a reduction in firm numbers of 10% for the same period. The profession is not adopting best business practices with poor leverage or gearing (partner-to-lawyer ratios) and comparatively low billable hour rates. He sees the results of this growth in firm numberscombined with relatively poor profitability will result in the virtual unattainability of partnership for a generation of lawyers.