Herald columnist Sasha Borissenko did a useful job of listing the oldest law firms in New Zealand, which include names reaching into the profession’s Jurassic period, well at least 150 years. She reported AUT Helen Dervan’s comments that firms if properly managed can survive in both upturns and downturns, which combined with the legal regulation we all face then both expertise and strategic thinking can lead to success.
So which are the oldest firms? And which are the more recent contenders for longevity in a tough profession?
Seven of the oldest firms –
The firm set up by New Zealand’s first lawyer, Richard Davis Hanson 179 years ago. Treadwells remains a small team handling commercial, property and litigation work, including a current Treadwell – Mical (pictured second from left).
2. Bell Gully
The Big Law leader was set up by New Zealand’s first-ever NZ-born Prime Minister Francis Bell, setting up the firm in 1840, the year the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.
Another Wellington firm that was set up a year after Treadwells and with a namesake partner still in place (Richard Brandon, pictured). The founder was Alfred de Bathe Brandon.
4. Jackson Russell
Celebrating its 175 years since foundation, Jackson Russell was founded by Fredrick Merriman and is now a thriving, 40 partner operation as modern as firms anywhere.
5. Duncan Cotterill
Duncan Cotterill, with offices in four cities and 200 employees was founded by Scottish lawyer Thomas Smith Duncan in 1850 in a move allegedly prompted by his elopement. He set up the firm with Henry Cotterill in 1879 who remained a partner in the firm for 64 years.
6. Wynn Williams
Christchurch-based Wynn Williams was founded in 1859 and has produced a list of legal luminaries including Justices Tipping and Venning as well as Professor Stephen Todd of ‘Todd on Torts’ fame.
7. Izard Weston
The Wellington boutique has been a Wellington stalwart firm for 158 years, handling media, maritime and commercial law work.
The More Recent Law Firm Entries
One of the new breed of legal outsourcing providers, Juno Legal provides ‘agile’ and on-demand legal solutions by scoping and assisting in-house legal teams to best address legal issues and challenges. Headed by corporate lawyer Helen Mackay (pictured) the firm also shows strong commitment to charitable and community causes.
Part of the multi-disciplinary K3 Group, the legal division complements the accounting and consultancy divisions. With strong entrepreneurial experience the firm also has an equally strong Asian focus, working with major corporates and smaller firms alike.
The firm has developed a strong focus on technology law, with offices in Singapore as well as Auckland and Wellington. Although founded in 2016 it has focused on the tech law area since 2012 and developed innovative marketing and legal service initiaitives.
The Queenstown-based boutique firm continues to grow along with the region. Entrepreneurial and with a strong small firm culture that can tackle big law jobs, Todd Walker was founded by Graeme Todd after his ‘mid life crisis’ decision to begin the practice.
The Wellington-based commercial law firm founded by Bruno Bordignon and Murray Whyte (below) has acted on a number of often tech-related commercial deals, taking a flexible approach to fee structures, including taking equity in some start-ups. The firm has developed an ‘Avid Bench’ application providing outsourced lawyers with project work as and when required in the same way as virtual law firms.
Wootton & Kearney
Although Australian-based, insurance specialists Wooton & Kearney have quickly built a legal team on this side of the Tasman since integrating with DAC Beachcroft in 2017. Six new partners joined the firm at that point with 10 NZ partners at this point, as we reported recently here.
There are others, of course, and as the legal profession continues to evolve and embrace tech trends there will be a greater emphasis upon virtual lawyering and AI-assisted ‘solutions’. But how long the firms last in anything like the current form remains to be seen.