Michael Stephens* The firm’s pre-eminent position as one of the country’s leading firms has continued, albeit tarnished badly by recent events involving sexual harassment and bullying issues, leading to Dame Margaret Bazley’s report in July, the recommendations of which have all been accepted by the firm.
LawFuel reported recently on the slimming down of Russell McVeagh, which has been a trend that appears to have accelerated in the past two to three years, although it’s reputation as a top firm continues. Eight years ago the firm listed 42 partners on the letterhead, which has downsized to the current 33. In the mid 1990s the firm was home to 52 partners, the second-largest in New Zealand by partner number, following Simpson Grierson at 57 (now 46). We looked at some of those who had recently departed the Factory Fold.
The trend towards reduced firm size is one that has characterised most major New Zealand firms as they work to maintain the leverage of partner-to-fee earners and maintain income in the face of burgeoning in-house law departments and increased competition, along with heightened resistance to the time-honoured hourly fee charges. Only Chapman Tripp among the big league firms have increased partner numbers since the mid-90s, when they were 51 to the current 56 partners.
Russell McVeagh has faced a uniquely challenging time in terms of the harassment issues that were the subject of Dame Margaret Bazley’s report, although the partners who departed in recent times (below) have almost all done so for the usual professional and personal reasons, moving to the bar, lateral movement to other firms and the like, as with any other major firm.
Where did the departed partners go? We took a look.
2014 – The Anderson Lloyd Departures
The 2014 departure of no fewer than three partners was a major downsizing for the firm and an equally significant coup for the burgeoning Auckland office of Anderson Lloyd. recruitment of no less than three former Russell McVeagh partners occurred in mid-2014 when Geoff Busch, Chris Bargery and David Holden. The three provided high level experience in commercial, PPP and resource management work and continue to work in the expanding Anderson Lloyd office, joined later by senior Russell McVeagh property supremo Alan Paterson (below).
Anderson Lloyd had already taken two senior Russell McVeagh alumni when it set up its Auckland operation,
March 2016 – James Gardner-Hopkins
James Gardner-Hopkins left the firm in April-May 2016 to join Woodward Chambers. A resource management expert who had lead the firm’s Environmental Planning and Natural Resources team, the departure was accompanied by an explanation from the former partner explaining his desire to pursue “the next phase of my career” and enjoying the independence and flexibility of the bar.
June 2016 – David Clarke
David Clarke advised on M&A, commercial, trade and related matters at the firm and has a strong interest in media, infotech and related matters, several of which have seen him earn international ranking recognition.
Highly respected by colleagues and clients alike, he continues to practice in Wellington.
August 2016 – Sally Fitzgerald.
A litigation partner at the firm since 2006 and a litigator who regularly handled work for Spark, Vector, NZRPG and ANZ she was appointed to the High Court in 2016, sitting in Auckland.
May 2017 – Alan Paterson
Property law expert and 22-year veteran who left the firm for potential retirement after a successful career handling some of the biggest property deals in the country but he wasn’t done – not by a long shot – joining Anderson Lloyd’s Auckland practicewhere he continues to handle major property transactions as the Auckland AL office continues to expand.
September 2018 – Andrew Butler
Andrew Butler, a highly respected constutitonal law expert, left the firm to join Thorndon Chambers. Dr Butler had worked as a senior lecturer at Victoria University before joining Crown Law in 1999 and then joining Russell McVeagh in 2005.
He has been chair of the New Zealand Law Foundation since 2013 and convenor of the New Zealand Law Society’s Human Rights and Privacy Committee. In 2016 he co-authored ‘A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand’ with former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC.
February/March 2017 – Graeme Quigley
A senior commercial partner at Webb Henderson, Graeme Quigley has handled some of the country’s largest deals, joining the Auckland firm after leaving Russell McVeagh in early 2017 to bolster Webb Henderson’s commercial practice.
His commercial law expertise is widely regarded with a number of legal ranking acknowledging his experience and ability. His new role continues to provide high level commercial work at his new firm.
October 2018 – John-Paul Rice
John-Paul Rice is the most recent partner to exit the firm. The Australian-born senior commercial partner departed the firm in October. A former banking and finance partner at the firm, it is unknown where he is currently working.
The firm recently announced the appointment of a new CEO, Jo Avenell, to continue its ‘transformation’.
*Michael Stephens is a contributing writer to LawFuel.