I was born in Nelson in 1963. My parents were immigrants from Holland and didn’t have a lot of money but gave me a really secure upbringing.
My background is that I went to Victory School, Nelson Intermediate and Nelson College. I was co-dux of Nelson College in 1981 and went to Canterbury University for five years where I obtained a Master of Laws with Honours. I worked, while I did my Masters degree, in Weston, Ward & Lascelles in Christchurch. Then, I worked for two years in Minter Ellison where two of my foremost supervising partners are now High Court Judges. After Minter Ellison, I went to London and worked in the firm which is now called Lovells. It is one of the five top firms in the City of London and I worked in a massive civil commercial fraud case called Derby v Weldon which has been reported a number of times in relation to various interlocutory aspects and was a case which launched the worldwide Mareva injunction.
This case was very high level although my role was reasonably clerical, supervising the discovery process with about 35 paralegals whom I largely recruited (mainly New Zealanders, including one
good friend who was my co-dux!). I left the high-level nature of that work, intoxicating though it was, because I wanted to return to my beloved Nelson and my family.
I came back to Nelson at the end of 1990 and worked at Hunter Ralfe for four years. I left on 1 December 1994 and started my own practice. Wayne Jones came along as my partner from 2009. At the present time, the firm has acted for close to 6,000 clients (some clients more than once) and worked in a wide variety of areas. My personal favourite areas are civil, including relationship property and employment, human rights issues, ACC and criminal jury trials.
I had thought of politics or policy making in Wellington but I dislike meetings and waffle. Often, there will be groups of people to win around to a particular political view point. My solution to being useful in life is to work with individuals who have been dealt a tough hand and try to make things better for them within the constraints of the legal system. If the client doesn’t have the means to pursue his or her case then I am prepared to work on legal aid and I believe very firmly in the importance of the legal aid system. I am very saddened by the attacks on it by politicians and ill-informed sections of the media. My goal is to win the case for the client and then to achieve a result that will allow the taxpayer to be refunded their legal aid (if it is a civil case where money is involved).
Social justice and fairness have been important to me from childhood. I am interested in environmental and economic issues too – about levelling the playing field as much as possible so that everyone gets the opportunity to make the most of what they’ve got. I know that the world isn’t completely like that but, to the extent that I can, I want to make a difference and achieve justice in the individual case.
To win a case, I‘ve learnt that detail is very important, as well as preparation and thoroughness. I have the skills and experience to bring the best out of a case. I start from the premise that if the client is aggrieved then there is perhaps a reason for that and then I look for justification for the client’s viewpoint and marshal all the evidence that I can to support the case.
Obviously, where there are differing perceptions or recollections then credibility will be important and sometimes I will know that one side is likely to be believed more than the other. If the client still wishes to bring the case, even though a credibility assessment may likely not go his or her way, then I will do my best to present the case in the best possible way ie to be a translator or presenter of the case so that the client can tell his or her story in the best possible light.
If it is a criminal case, then I will work towards damage control if the client is guilty of the charges laid or something like them. Most people are not unsalvageable and, particularly, if they deal with personal demons such as alcohol and drug issues or violent tendencies brought about by childhood cycles, then they can develop into people who will make a worthwhile contribution in the community. Often, it is just a matter of age or a young male finally finding love and family life or loners finding somewhere to belong. For many, especially Maori, it is a case of making them feel proud of where they have come from, their history and their culture.
If it is a not guilty situation, but a case where a criminal defendant wishes to go to trial, I will still make sure that their personal issues are overcome to the best of their ability in case the charges go against them. Also, it’s a good opportunity for them to shape up their act. If the case is to go to a defended hearing or trial, then I will do my best to bring together all the evidence and witnesses whom the client indicates are important. It is my greatest fear that I will leave out some important aspect to the defence and that someone will unjustly be found guilty of a criminal offence when I could have done something to avoid it.
I don’t tend to get jubilant about victory or too despondent about failure, so long as I have done the best that I can do to present the case to the Court.
Really, I’ve tried most areas of the law except little in the way of tax or resource management. I also have been involved in property litigation and I supervise the conveyancing undertaken here at Zindels. It is hard to keep up with so many diverse fields but I find that the law topics interrelate and that it is dangerous to be too much of a specialist. There are arguments both ways but overspecialisation leads to the risk that you become rather blinkered in your approach, and cannot see important aspects in other areas.
With a large number of cases, my main issue is to keep on top of all the paperwork and to meet clients’ expectations as to timeliness. I don’t always deliver but I am always acutely conscious of any delays. I aim to respond to telephone messages within 24 hours and try to keep on top of emails even quicker than that but it is not always possible. No one has ever accused me of being lazy, while working for them, and if I do become over committed or develop a mental block about a particular case then I will try to be honest and redirect it to someone else in the firm or outside the firm.
One of my proudest achievements with the firm was that from starting with practically nothing, the firm now has five lawyers and three support staff. The firm has seen 15 lawyers embarking on their career journeys since 1995. They have been groomed and given the confidence to pursue their vocation. Our firm is one of the few in Nelson which is prepared to take on junior staff.
Perverse legal aid rules make it practically uneconomic to take on junior staff but it is a key philosophical totem for me that young people are given a chance and that the profession is renewed. Each new solicitor who works for us and who, with open eyes, is excited by our industry is like a blood transfusion for us. It is easy to become battle-weary and cynical when the parade of humanity streams at rapid succession through your office. The challenge is to remain fresh and to give everyone a chance to tell their story and have their crack at justice.
I can’t pretend it is a perfect system but the legal system does more good than bad and is infinitely more preferable to the alternative. Read my views on this in the article titled "Crime & Punishment".