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Q&A with Judge Kevin Phillips

06 June 2014

Judge Phillips took up practice in Queenstown in 1984. His background was primarily in litigation. There were no specialist litigation lawyers in Queenstown when he first arrived. Queenstown Court sat one day a month with only Criminal jurisdiction. Civil and family cases were heard in Alexandra. The visiting judges were from Invercargill. He has sat regularly in Queenstown since 2006.

How would you describe the Queenstown-Lakes District legal profession?

The Queenstown legal profession has changed and grown dramatically, but it still has the sole practitioners who cover the whole spectrum of legal advice and who are still prepared to attend and appear in the Queenstown Court for impecunious litigants and who receive only the ridiculously low legal aid fees.

There are common law specialists who, although few in number, deal with a growing amount of serious crime, particularly of a violent kind. There are the environmental law specialists and civil litigators who have practices covering New Zealand rather than just the Queenstown Basin.

As a whole, the Queenstown legal profession is high-end professional, diligent, honest and there is strong collegiality.

What are some of the legal issues unique to Queenstown?

Legal issues brought about by periods of strong growth, where there is enormous pressure placed on legal firms to get the work done with ever increasing rents and staffing costs which are followed by sudden and sharp recessions. This places further demands where work is falling and staff numbers have to be decreased. It is the suddenness and nature of such changes that is the problem and the uniqueness.

There can be difficulties in getting the right staff to take up positions because of this – further complicated by the cost of living in Central Otago, particularly housing.

The transient nature of a lot of the population and tourists brings difficulties to the legal profession. Such clients are notoriously fickle, changing lawyers and their requirements /instructions.

Clients also suffer the up and down nature of the economy and can quickly come under pressure both financially and relationship wise. This can place strain on the lawyers assisting who need to be able to respond immediately.

I always thought practising in Queenstown was akin to practising in the bigger cities, but without the travel difficulties and with many other bonuses.

Last updated on the 17th March 2016