Rachael Zame - Special Counsel
I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection of law and science, and as a child I dreamed of becoming a forensic scientist or a pathologist. However, I realised I didn’t have the stomach for the latter when I began studying law and science at Otago University.
Studying law and science together was unusual at the time - it wasn’t a particularly easy combination but I made it work, and quickly discovered I was interested in the medico-legal and environmental law aspects of my legal papers.
Two decades later, I’m pleased to have been promoted to Special Counsel at Cooney Lees Morgan, where I can bring my love of both science and law together. I specialise in environmental, resource management and local government law. My areas of expertise include freshwater, three waters, air quality, climate change and sustainability matters.
I’ve acted for a range of clients, from local authorities and infrastructure providers, through to corporate clients and individuals. The projects I work on are extremely varied; one minute you’re working on the grounding of the MV Rena or a large-scale stopbank upgrading or river re-diversion project, the next you’re dealing with planning issues relating to nutrient management in over-allocated catchments, air quality, or the management of natural hazards (including managed retreat). And then you’ll be straight into enforcement issues or environmental health matters.
We are often at the forefront of legal environmental issues in New Zealand, which is really challenging and satisfying.
I’m particularly interested in climate change and sustainability. These are some of the most significant challenges facing New Zealand (and the world) today in terms of transitioning to a lower-emissions economy and adapting to the changing climate. As a member of the Law Society’s first Climate Change Sub-committee, we monitor and make recommendations on proposed legislative reforms relevant to New Zealand’s climate change commitments and obligations. I regularly provide seminars, advice and write articles on a wide range of climate change matters from a legal perspective.
With recent events in the Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti, it’s really starting to reignite some important discussions around adaptation options, including managed retreat. These are complex, multi-faceted issues but we can’t shy away from them. Equally, we have to start working on reducing our emissions, and it’s really encouraging to see how many businesses are starting to consider ESG practices in a meaningful way.
I joined Cooneys in 2009 after moving back to New Zealand from London with my husband, a keen surfer from Gizzie. We wanted to be closer to family, escape the rat race, and live in a regional area with good surf spots. The Mount was the perfect choice. I work part-time across four days, allowing me to achieve that elusive balance of undertaking fulfilling and meaningful work and family life. We have three very active daughters, so I love being able to be there most days for school pick-up, and then we get stuck into outdoor activities. To be honest I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect moving from London to a small city; I certainly wasn’t expecting the quality of work to be as challenging as what I had experienced earlier in my career at Chapman Tripp, and in London. I’m happy to say I’ve been proven wrong.
Environmental/resource management law is continually evolving, and we’re currently undergoing a phase of complete reform of the existing legislation which will bring new challenges and opportunities for our clients as we transition into the new system. As we move towards a more holistic and integrated approach that considers a Te Ao Māori perspective alongside ‘western’ science, it’s crucial that we keep learning and growing with it.
I’m excited to continue developing my expertise in climate change and sustainability and contribute my legal skills to address these critical issues in our community.