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Lawyers who turn politician want to leave their mark on legislation

03 November 2016 - By Nick Butcher

If you take a closer look at the education jackets of politicians currently working on policy in the Beehive, you’ll find many of them actually started out as lawyers.

The latest issue of the New Zealand Law Society magazine LawTalk looks at  the careers and views of five lawyers who became Members of Parliament.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC needs no introduction. He has been a lawyer for over half a century, as he was admitted in 1966. Sir Geoffrey is also a Law Professor and still teaches law students.

He entered the colourful world of politics as the MP for Christchurch Central in 1979. In Parliament he held the offices of the Labour Government’s Attorney-General, Minister of Justice, and Leader of the House, Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister. He left politics in 1990.

Sir Geoffrey says being a lawyer in politics was the only way to be able to change influence how society should be run.

“If you want to change things there is really no other way of doing it really. Judges and Lawyers in their normal life of acting for clients get involved in disputes about how the law applies but they don’t get to make the law,” he says.

Green Party co-leader, Metiria Turei says her foray into law actually came through being involved in activist politics in the 1980s.

“I was even arrested once. It was very much about challenging the dominant paradigm. People who had power and their use of that power over people who didn’t have any,” she says.

Having spent a lot of time interpreting law, she says the opportunity to make law appeared to be the next professional step in a legal career.

“Politics is about advocacy and hopefully having a bigger sense of taking responsibility for the wellbeing of the whole country. I think some lawyers come into politics because of the ability to change things, you know, move society forward in a better way and therefore use those legal skills to achieve that by the making of good laws.

The Justice Minister, Amy Adams, is also a lawyer and entered politics after she began questioning why various laws worked the way they did.

“Those thoughts were percolating in my brain,” she says.

Ms Adams also started traveling between Christchurch and Wellington, presenting submissions at select committee meetings on behalf of a client and she began to get a feel for politics.

“I was meeting with Ministers, conveying view points and the more I spent time in Wellington, the more I realised this where you can get involved in these decisions. I felt I could make a contribution and that it would be far more meaningful for me,” she says.

The full feature can be read in LawTalk online.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019