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Riding the robust roar of the Celtic Tiger

06 June 2019 - By Jock Anderson

A son of one of New Zealand’s most outspoken journalists, Dublin-domiciled Liam Kennedy – a partner in Ireland’s biggest law firm – still hankers after being a journalist, if he could find a way of making it pay.

“I always wanted to be a journalist like my father, but I found myself doing law as I went through college and here I am.”

Liam’s father was Methven-born journalist John Patrick Kennedy – who died in 1994 – and who was editor of the Catholic newspaper The New Zealand Tablet from 1967 to 1989. John Kennedy was a “belt and braces” journalist known for his socially conservative stance against homosexuality and abortion law reform.

NameLiam Kennedy
BornMelbourne to New Zealand parents and he came to New Zealand aged three.
Age56
Entry to lawGraduated LLB (Hons) from Otago University in 1985. Admitted in New Zealand in 1985.
WorkplacePartner at A&L Goodbody, Dublin.
Specialty areaLitigation and dispute resolution, international and domestic commercial disputes.

“It’s getting harder for journalists especially in the print media and I do feel sorry when I see the pressure it is under. The Otago Daily Times is one of the papers that has stood the test of time. It hasn’t changed, it’s locally-owned and it stands out really well among all the New Zealand papers.

Liam Kennedy

“I grew up in Dunedin, was president of the Otago University Students’ Association and was fairly active in student politics.”

Liam worked in Wellington for about four years at Kensington Swan and was also a lecturer in the New Zealand Law Society’s professionals programme which was being launched at that time.

“I went travelling in 1989 and after various peregrinations around the world eventually made it to London. I worked for about four years in London with international legal firm Herbert Smith Freehills, and while in London I met my wife Eleanor, who is from Cork.

“That decided my travel plans from then on. She was a nurse and we met by chance. She was from Ireland and I was obviously of Irish descent so we decided to give it a try.

“At that time not very much was going on in Ireland, it was a fairly miserable place economically.

“The sort of cases I was doing in London were quite relevant to the sort of work a firm in Dublin was getting involved in. An opportunity came up and I thought I would give Dublin a try.

“I just happened to come to Dublin at the right time. In the last two or three decades the economy has gone from strength to strength. It has benefited from membership of the European Union and having an innovative economy, and so I was lucky I came in at the ground floor.

“The Celtic Tiger has had the odd set back over the years but it’s roaring again at the moment.

“Ireland took a bit of a dent during the global financial crisis but because I am a litigator that meant I was still busy. Now the economy is going from strength to strength, although we are all a bit nervous about Brexit.”

Now a partner in Ireland’s biggest law firm, Liam is involved in a lot of litigation inside and outside Ireland, in Europe and the United States.

He has been a member of the Council of the Law Society of Ireland for the past decade or so. In April he proposed a motion of support from the Law Society in the wake of the Christchurch mosque shootings “to express our support for the way in which New Zealand had responded to the atrocity in Christchurch”. “It won a lot of respect around the world,” he says.

Liam is also involved in the Law Society of Ireland’s general university task force.

“The Irish Law Society is the first in the world to have a majority of female practitioners, but there is still an issue, by no means limited to Ireland, of not enough women getting through to partnership in sufficient numbers.

“Ireland is also becoming increasingly important in the wake of Brexit as a jurisdiction for legal transactions which will benefit both the common law procedures and jurisprudence, while also being able to avail of the legal advantages of being within the European Union in terms of enforceability of judgments and access to the Court of Justice of the European Union. I am part of a Law Society initiative promoting Ireland in that context.”

Irish and Kiwi

Liam’s three children were all born and grew up in Ireland. “They are equally conscious of their Irish and New Zealand heritage, and have dual allegiances when rugby matches come along.”

Son Sean (23), is training with KPMG, son Garrett (21), has just finished a year’s study in Austin, Texas, as part of a degree he is doing at University College, Dublin, studying philosophy and economics, and 18-year-old daughter Aine (pronounced awn ye) is in her last year at school about to do her final exams.

“I’m a keen follower of rugby. When I got across here I was told the only way to get to rugby tests was to join a rugby club because tickets were hard to get.

“So I joined a club intending to be a pavilion member just to get the tickets. The day after I sent in my application I got a call saying to come out the following Saturday and tog out for the first team. They assumed that coming from New Zealand I must be a quality player. I had to disillusion them.

“I am an armchair rugby supporter. The matches in Ireland have something you don’t always get in New Zealand.

“The quality of the rugby might not be as good, but because Ireland is much more accessible there are many more fans coming so the stadium is normally 50/50. So you get a lot more atmosphere at the grounds with singing and the like - which is quite special.

“There is also an attitude for a Six Nations match when you get the Scots, English, Welsh, and French travelling. Fans come for the weekend – a weekend of partying.

“I like watching hurling, the fastest field sport in the world. A crazy game, sort of like airborne hockey but more skilled. And Gaelic football.

“My other interests would be around hillwalking. Ireland is brilliant for hill walking. Within half an hour I can be away from my desk and hill walking.

“I’m the first lawyer in the family. A couple of my kids could go that way but I’ll let them make up their own minds.

“I have one brother and two sisters in Wellington, a sister in Palmerston North, a brother in Hong Kong and a brother in Taiwan. The last two have kept the family tradition of journalism going. I do have a nephew who is a lawyer.

“I love listening to music. I can clear a room if I start to perform. My mother thought I was a musical genius but she was the only person who thought that. I like Irish music and anything before 1980. No great favourites but anything that’s easy listening.

“There’s a Japanese word (tsundoku) for people who are guilty of the sin of buying more books than they can read and I am guilty of that. I have a huge library at home.

“I am a Game of Thrones addict and have read all the books. Game of Thrones is a big hit here because it was filmed partly in Ireland. I read Marcus Druon, a former president of the Academie francaise, who wrote French historical novels and also Margaret Attwood and John Le Carre. I like listening to audio books if the right person is doing the narration.

“I go through blitzes with films and go to three films in a couple of weeks, then none for a couple of months. I like modern stuff. On TV I like Peaky Blinders and Breaking Bad. I work long hours so sometimes I try not to watch that serious stuff late at night. At night I’ll watch some sitcom to wind down. I like Tom Hanks, Judi Dench and have a soft spot for Clint Eastwood and Robert De Niro.”

The lazy dog

“We love holidaying in Spain, Italy and France. The lifestyle is Spain is so easy going, there is so much history, culture and brilliant wine.

“Our Bichon frise, Alfie, is the boss of the house and the laziest dog in Dublin.

“I have a BMW 3 Series, but I’m trying not to drive. I’m trying to get back into cycling to work and got back into it over the last six months. I put on a bit of weight after my last visit to New Zealand.

“Dinner guests would Barrack Obama and Tony Blair, in terms of living people. I wouldn’t say no to Jacinda, she would be welcome to come in for whatever was on the cooker. Stephen Fry, JK Rowling, Abraham Lincoln, James K Baxter - I remember a lot of stories about Baxter from my parents.

“There would be good old fashioned Rakaia roast lamb with trimmings. I am still partial to good New Zealand pinot noir and do my best in Ireland to promote NZ pinot, New Zealand sauvignon blanc and pinot. And I like a pint of Guinness myself.

“If I could make it pay then in an alternative career I would definitely be a journalist. But the other thing I have always been fascinated by is politics, whether in New Zealand or Ireland. Something to do with politics. But it’s a dog’s life being a politician so I’m not sure if I would have wanted that.”

Last updated on the 6th June 2019