Is This The Woman Who Could Have Avoided The Law Society Leadership Debacle?

Is This The Woman Who Could Have Avoided The Law Society Leadership Debacle? 2

John Bowie* At a time when bullying, harassment and their poorly behaved fellow travellers have occupied the minds of many in a law profession increasingly populated by women, it seems somewhat ironic that the Law Society leadership of women should itself should fall victim to some of these very same issues.

The issue over Jacque Lethbridge\’s resignation and the earlier departure of Joanna Simon as Chief Executive does not mean these are not two perfectly competent professionals.

But what is interesting is that all this occurred in the first place – and why yet another woman was not in place to quite possibly have avoided the cluster muck-up that it has all become.


We know this has not to date been a great century for presidents of any stripe, but the mess that occurred at the Law Society is one of somewhat Trumpian proportions – not of a Storming the Capital-type, but a capital mess all the same.

And what is somewhat concerning is that there was almost certainly a woman who could have avoided the mess if she had not been overlooked for the role running the day-to-day operations of the Law Society.

The Heron report into the debacle indicates there are cultural problems and issues around the definition of respective roles within the Law Society, so far as it appears.

Doubtless both the now-resigned president and Chief Executive Officer are strong-willed personalities with clear minds and focus.

Is This The Woman Who Could Have Avoided The Law Society Leadership Debacle? 3

However, the incumbent at the time of the appointment of Joanna Simon, long-serving Executive Director Mary Ollivier (pictured, left) was, it would seem, someone who had been anointed to take over the top role by her predecessor, former Law Society Executive Director and the second female president of the Law Society in its history, Justice Christine Grice (above).

Ollivier left the Society in 2017 when Helen Morgan-Banda got the job via yet another \”rigorous\” recruitment process.

One does wonder why an executive role at the Law Society requires these exhaustive and rigorous recruitment processes when the best option may be standing in front of us.

After all, we\’re talking about a regulatory body of intelligent people, not a Kremlin sub-committee on disinformation.

Is This The Woman Who Could Have Avoided The Law Society Leadership Debacle? 4

In this case it would be Mary Olliver (above).

It appeared clear to most NZLS onlookers that the capable Mary Ollivier was a person well equipped to retain, or regain her role as Executive Director of the Law Society, following her appointment at the beginning of 2018 when she was made Acting Executive Director following the elevation to the High Court bench of Christine Grice.

Mary Ollivier had been the Law Society’s General Manager Regulatory since the role was established following major changes to the regulation of lawyers in 2008.

in the mid-1990s as Professional Standards Director and then Deputy Executive Director. She moved to the New Zealand Law Society in 2008 to assist with implementation of the new Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006.

She had also held various roles including serving as Secretary of the Wellington Woman Lawyers Association and chaired the Professional Partnership Network as well as being involved in legal regulatory matters at an international level.

What better person to step into the new role – one she knew inside out.

However, the Law Society\’s self-declared national and international search for a replacement under then-president Tiana Epati did not seem to consider that the prior incumbent was perhaps best equipped to do the job.

It would seem that one of the primary motivations for the appointment of the unquestionably capable Joanna Simon, who had successfully managed DLAPiper, was that she was Auckland-based. And with most members in the Auckland region the power balance swung their way. With unfortunate consequences.

Mary Olivier is now Chief Executive and Commissioner at Utilities Disputes, the organisation that handles complaints about electricity, gas and water companies. All areas that doubtless provide a lively application similar to the live wires and their gassy talk at the Law Society.

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