Fizzy drinks, baked beans and eggs fuelled mature student
Viv d’Or, lawyer at Viv d’Or Law, Petone and Tauranga.
The oldest of five children, Hutt-based lawyer Viv d’Or had a diverse life before law, working in a number of different roles, including being an orchardist and a television producer. She didn’t start to study law until she was 53.
Viv’s father owned a welding business in the small Waikato town of Waharoa, 7km north of Matamata where she was born.
“I started school at four and a half. I drove my mother nuts because I wanted to read and write; I already knew how to chop kindling and light the old black coal range, peel potatoes and put them on for dinner.
“I went to Matamata College as an awkward, rebellious teenager, but found my own as a registered nurse at Tauranga Hospital in the accident and emergency ward where I discovered I had an ability to stay calm amidst the storm of disaster and assist in a positive way. I worked in the maternity annexe as well, which I loved.”
Your pre-law resume is a colourful and varied one. What drew you, eventually, to law?
“When I was six television arrived in New Zealand and I was hooked.
“We didn’t have a TV, but [family friends] Mr and Mrs Norrie did. They let me watch Clutch Cargo [an animated series about a pilot who takes on dangerous assignments] and other programmes for a little while on their telly a couple of times a week.”
During those viewings, Viv caught a detective programme where a man was on trial for burglary in a second-storey building. He pleaded not guilty because he claimed he couldn’t raise his right arm above his shoulder due to an injury, thus preventing him from committing the crime.
“The prosecutor asked him how far he could raise his arm now. The burglar raised it to shoulder height, ‘and how far could you raise it before’, asked the prosecutor. The burglar raised his arm up way past his shoulder pointing his hand to the sky – ‘this far Sir’, he said. Guilty.
“At that moment I only wanted to do law. I knew there was a way of thinking in law that fascinated me and I wanted it more than anything. And though I waited a further 50 years to do that, it made the accomplishment sweeter somehow.”
Viv’s love for the law was always in the back of her mind throughout her many careers. From working as a registered nurse to a kiwifruit orchardist, furniture and interior design retailer as well as a TV producer, marketer and restauranteur. All this variety means Viv has experience working in a lot of the industries her clients work in.
You mention childhood gremlins as a reason for not studying law after high school. What made you feel like you couldn’t become a lawyer?
“I was seriously assaulted by a male babysitter when my mum was having my youngest brother. I lost my ability to articulate myself verbally and lost confidence in myself. I was struck dumb inside my head and couldn’t find the right words. It’s the main reason why I find court work difficult and don’t do it unless I really have to.
“When I was in my 50s I basically said ‘fuck it, I don’t want to be 90 and wish I had done law’ – so did eight weeks intensive counselling to put the gremlins to rest and try to make sense of the assault.
“On my last day of counselling I rang Waikato University and asked them if they took old ladies on as law students, they said yes, so I enrolled. I was 53.
Surviving on Diet Coke, baked beans and eggs for the next three years, Viv, with the support of her classmates, finished her law degree and honours papers. “It hurt my head, but I didn’t care. I was living my dream and my fellow students were so supportive and fun.”
“I came to Wellington to complete my professionals in December 2008, knowing only one person – my best friend Chrissie of 30 years. I fell in love with Petone and didn’t return to live in the Bay of Plenty when I completed them. When a legal job didn’t work out, I became a barrister, purchased a small advocacy business and built my employment business from there. I spoke to anyone, helped out at Community Law for around seven years, and slowly but surely grew and expanded my business.”
Viv works in employment law, family law and wills and trusts. She has an office in Petone and has recently opened one at Tauranga Airport.
What do you enjoy most about working as an employment lawyer?
“I like resolving issues. I get a buzz from it. I love educating employers and helping employees empower themselves during what is normally a really hard, stressful time in their lives. We also help clients recover their self-esteem.
“There is a lot of pastoral care in employment law. Employees place a value on themselves by the job they hold and when it is threatened they mistakenly devalue their worth. I am just so happy when resolution is reached, and people move on.
“My favourite emails are from past clients. They always start the same way. ‘You won’t believe this but, I got an amazing new job with a $20,000 pay increase in a supportive environment.’ Or, ‘I started my own business and it's amazing being my own boss.’
And what do you enjoy most about working in elder law?
“I have always had a soft spot for the elderly. I don’t know why. I just have infinite patience with them. I think they have a life story to tell and they often need protection. I feel compelled to protect them with well written wills and enduring powers of attorney and trusts. My own mum had Alzheimer’s for 10 years before she passed away a couple of years ago. The appointment of an attorney for her personal welfare, independent of her five children, was in my opinion the single most important decision she made.”
After finishing your studies at Waikato, did you find the work matched the expectations before entering study?
“Practising law has exceeded all expectations. I love the diversity of the work I do. I believe lawyers are in a privileged place in society in that we are able to help people when no one else can. Nothing like a lawyer’s letter to invoke action. I feel extremely privileged to be part of the legal fraternity. We all have different ways of working but it is a collegiate group of people trying to resolve the woes of others.”
Is there anything you wish you had been taught in law school that wasn’t covered?
“Nothing like experience to make you realise how little you know about the practice of law until you get out there. Luckily, I have been blessed with the quality of friends in the legal fraternity that have surrounded me and assisted me through those rocky times that hit us from time to time.”
Are there any issues currently facing lawyers and/or the legal system as a whole that you’d like to highlight?
“Social media has changed the way we practise law. Clients are more savvy since the internet has provided so much information. We often correspond via email and skype now. I don’t mind.”
Can you tell me about anyone who inspires you?
“My biggest inspiration is Ruth Bader Ginsburg who serves on the US Supreme Court as Associate Justice, the second of only four female justices. She is a five foot bundle of energy. And what a mind. She has been a leading voice for gender equality, women’s interests, civil rights and liberties.”
Law is stressful. What activities do you do after work to repose after a day of running two law firms?
“I swim and aqua jog four times a week with my friend Cherie. I have great friends in this area who I meet up with on a regular basis and eat at cafés. I binge watch Netflix and Lightbox. I do pilates. I’m a great source of amusement to three of my grandchildren who live in Auckland (the others are in Switzerland).
“Being nanny is one of my great joys in life. I can say naughty words and they laugh hysterically. Their parents do not. I just put my photograph on the front of my grand-daughter’s birthday pyjamas with “My nanny loves me Xx” on it. If she can wear Emma from the Wiggles on her T-shirt, why not Nanny.”
Where to now?
“I have long recognised the difficulty for lawyers, especially women who are returning to the work force after having children, who need to work on a part-time basis.
“I successfully trialled a part-time model over the last 12 months in my law firm where employees returning to the workplace after parental leave were employed for 10-15 hours per week. This has worked really well for the employees, their families, and me.
“I have taught women how to run their own businesses and continue to mentor them. So we are continuing to run this model.”
You can find Viv’s d’Or’s offices in both Petone and Tauranga. Ph 021 2423 200 www.vivdorlaw.co.nz
Angharad O’Flynn is a Wellington journalist.
Last updated on the 7th June 2019