I came to the Bay of Plenty from Wellington in 2003 to take up a role as Zespri's chief in-house legal counsel. I wasn’t familiar with Tauranga or the Mount, so it definitely helped that on the day of my job interview when I left Wellington, it was cold, wet and of course windy - but sunny and warm when I got off the plane here!
With a young family, the Mount has proven to be a fantastic place to live and bring up our three kids, with excellent schools, the seaside environment and the lakes and mountains of the central North Island within easy reach. And in ‘rush hour’ the Tauranga CBD is only a 15 minute drive away. While we expected to be living among empty holiday homes and retirees, we have been delighted to discover a thriving community of professionals in our neighbourhood, and we've made some great friends in our 12 years here so far.
While I was General Counsel at Zespri, Cooney Lees Morgan offered one of their lawyers on secondment – that young lawyer was Matt Tustin (with a lot less grey hair than he has now!). It was from there that Zespri's relationship with Cooney Lees Morgan grew, and the firm has been proud to name Zespri as one of its major clients ever since. Moving from Zespri to join the Cooney Lees Morgan team became a logical next step to take in my career, and I joined the firm in 2009 and the partnership in 2010.
What motivates me is interesting and challenging work, and when clients can clearly see the value we’ve added through our work for them. Although sometimes there are less zeros on the numbers than some of the deals the big city firms are doing, the work can be just as complex, and often what’s at stake is the client's own money – as opposed to that of faceless shareholders or financiers you never actually meet.
A common misconception people have of firms outside of the main centres is that the commercial work consists of acting for the guy buying the corner shop. Not so. Our team acts for major corporates like Norske Skog Tasman, Zespri, Milford Asset Management, local government, and a wide range of mid-sized businesses with some very sophisticated legal needs. We’re heavily into agribusiness, which comes with our rural hinterland, and perhaps surprisingly, also early stage capital-raising, angel investing, and venture capital deals.
We pride ourselves on being able to ‘foot it’ with the big firms – and let's face it, most of the people in my team have top-tier law firm experience on their CVs so it's not surprising. I know that my team would agree that they get more face-time with clients than they ever did in their big city jobs, leading to more meaningful client relationships. I'd say there's more of a ‘real life’ dimension to the work we do and a lot less beavering away in the back room.
If you’re contemplating a career move, come and talk to us. If you come to the Bay of Plenty and join Cooney Lees Morgan, you can expect a great lifestyle and community, as well as a motivated team of skilled and experienced lawyers doing really interesting work for top-shelf clients. You could sum that up as best place, best people, best work, best clients!