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A fresh player in 160 years of legal influence

24 May 2018 - By Jock Anderson

Flying in from Washington to Timaru for her admission to the Bar recently was a special moment Rachael Gresson is unlikely to forget.

A sixth-generation member of the illustrious Gresson legal dynasty, Rachael’s admission at Timaru High Court was moved by her uncle Tim, a former long-serving local Crown solicitor and now a consultant at Gresson Dorman.

Members of the Gresson family include Henry Barnes Gresson, appointed in 1858 as the first resident Judge for Canterbury and Otago of the then Supreme Court; his son John Gresson, father of Maurice Gresson, a leader of the Christchurch Bar and eminent Judge Sir Kenneth Gresson and first permanent President of the Court of Appeal; Terence Gresson, at 45, the youngest ever Judge of the then Supreme Court; and Rachael’s cousin Ben, who was admitted in 2017 and practises in Queenstown.

Name Rachael Frances (Rachael) Gresson
Born

Harrow, England. Came to New Zealand at six weeks and raised in Hamilton.

Age 

28
Entry to law Graduated BA in political science and communications, and LLB from Canterbury University. Admitted at Timaru High Court, on April 27, 2018.
Workplace

Senior manager of content and branding at the Bi-Partisan Policy Centre, Washington DC.

Speciality area Not currently practising in New Zealand, but working incontent, branding and communications.

Justice Nick Davidson, originally from Timaru, conducted the admission ceremony, attended by partners of Gresson Dorman, Rachael’s parents Nigel and Sue, her partner Kelly, family and close friends.

Gresson edited

Justice Davidson was accompanied on the Bench by retired High Court Justice Peter Penlington QC, both of whom have longstanding associations with the Gresson family.

In his address, Justice Davidson said Gressons had been eminent in judicial, legal, church, military and community roles, in different parts of the country, “and have been and remain influential in law,” for 160 years.

“It was a wonderful ceremony and Justice Davidson and Justice Penlington made it so special and personalised for both myself and my family,” Rachael said before flying back to Washington.

“I have a lot of work ahead of me to get admitted in the United States. I plan to sit the New York Bar exams in July and start the processes of getting admitted in New York, probably sometime in 2019. It takes a wee while.”

Lobbying Capitol Hill

Rachael is senior manager of content and branding at the Bi-Partisan Policy Centre, in Washington, where she has worked for three years. The centre is a not for profit think-tank that does research and analysis across a range of different policy issues including health care, energy, immigration and the economy.

“We work with former legislators, both senators and representatives, to craft recommendations that we think would move the policy conversation forward. Then we do our best to advocate for those on Capitol Hill and try and see those moved into law.

“Part of the organisation is research and analysis and part is lobby group. The difference between these roles is a hot topic in the US.

“We are a mid-sized think-tank. Our point of difference is we would put three Republicans and three Democrats in a room and say ‘let’s talk about immigration and let’s find some solutions’.

“Everybody walks away from that table slightly unhappy but that probably indicates a great compromise and is a great way to move the conversation forward inch by inch, as opposed to one party unilaterally getting what they want.

“I am really interested in where the world of law and communications intersect. In a large city like DC there’s really interesting work around litigation communications or crisis communications or specific areas of the law, but that also applies in New Zealand as well.

“So that intersection of law and communications is where I am working more and more into.”

She previously served on the executive board of the Canterbury University students’ association, where she co-founded a charitable social enterprise and worked with the equity and diversity committee.

She interned for California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer in Washington, as a study abroad student with the University of California, Berkeley.

Rachael’s partner Kelly is a personal trainer, who was training in Canterbury before the couple moved to DC, and were married there in 2015.

“I don’t have much to do with the White House, unfortunately, other than responding to policy changes they put out, and our organisation making recommendations in the regulatory space that we’d like to see happen. But I am an avid visitor to the White House.

“I don’t have any hobbies as such but I do lot of work for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) based in DC, which is the largest LGBTQ civil rights organisation in the US.

“I work for them on a volunteer capacity in terms of working with volunteers, fund-raising and supporting their work around pro-equality campaign and pro-equality messages.

“I do a bit of running. Kelly and I did the New York marathon in 2016, the Chicago marathon in 2015 and the Seattle half marathon last year. We don’t finish particularly high up but they are fantastic races.

“When we first moved over we did a week in Hawaii which eased us into the culture shock of the US. Then we got a van with a mattress in the back and a fridge, drove around and did the national parks: Zion, Yosemite, Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon – just amazing. We did trips along east and west coasts and into Texas.”

Rachael and Kelly visited Iowa in May to see Rachael’s older sister Emma, a rowing coach who has lived in the US for about 10 years, and is a graduate from Iowa University.

The Boxer beat

Drawn to life in the US after doing student abroad study at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2011, Rachael had the opportunity to move to Washington and do an internship for Senator Boxer, who has recently retired.

“I fell in love with DC, the city, the policy, the politics, the legislative process. Americans are incredibly hospitable in their own country and in their own home and that warmth attracted me. We find it an enjoyable place to live.

“Mum and Dad met in Harrow [north London] and started their family there. I spent about six weeks there and they came back to New Zealand. Long enough to snap up the passport but not long enough to be a Brit. Mum and Dad came to Hamilton, where my sister and I were raised and went to primary and high school.”

Her Mum, Sue, an Australian, is a historian and her Dad Nigel is a dentist.

With law in her blood she grew up knowing the role her uncle Tim and grandfather Michael Gresson (both Crown solicitors in Timaru) had played.

“It’s been wonderful to learn more about more distant relatives and their incredible background. Law was certainly something discussed while I was growing up and something I had an affinity for pretty early on. I didn’t consider anything else.

“When I came back from my student year abroad it was all go into law. Law school breeds this fantastic culture of collegiality.

Gresson Bar

Left to Right: Rachael’s uncle and former Timaru Crown Solicitor Tim Gresson, her cousin Ben Gresson, who practices in Queenstown, retired High Court Judge Peter Penlington QC, Rachael Gresson and Justice Nicholas Davidson, of Christchurch, who presided over the admission ceremony.

“I listen mainly to podcasts. In a story titled Serial, the nationally syndicated radio programme This American Life, followed Adnan Masud Syed, who was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend in Baltimore, figuring out if he was wrongly convicted. Fantastic journalism.”

Syed insists he is innocent. His conviction was vacated in 2016 and a new trial ordered. In March this year the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld the decision to grant Syed a new trial.

“I am an Ed Sheeran fan and have seen him in concert. I’m not a big movie fan, but saw one on the plane here - I,Tonya, about figure skater Tonya Harding.

“When Helen Clark came to DC and the embassy put on an event for her I attended and they screened My Year With Helen, which I thought was good.

“We don’t have a car in DC - parking is horrendous – so we rely on the subway or walk. And while I would love a dog we don’t have any pets but I do a bit of dog-sitting.

“My admission is top of my mind as my most memorable moment. This would be hard to top, to have my family represented both in the court and in Justice Davidson’s remarks and to have Justice Penlington there with his strong connections to my family.”

Obama sitting next to family member

“I could go in so many directions with dinner guests. I couldn’t put President Obama down one end and Henry Barnes Gresson [Appointed first resident Judge of the then Supreme Court for Canterbury and Otago in 1858] down the other because I’m not sure how that conversation would go. But maybe I would put those two together and see what happened.

“In DC Kelly and I rely heavily on food boxes, which are huge in the US, we get one called Blue Apron every second week, which has some amazing meals. We do love spending time in the kitchen and love any sort of meal that involves a delicious salmon, and a good New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

“Whiritoa beach on the Coromandel, where we spent a number of summers growing up, would be my favourite holiday spot in New Zealand. In the US it is hard to beat the Shenandoah Valley and the Appalachian Trail.”

Why did Rachael come back now to be admitted?

“I had conversations with Tim, and I finished profs at the end of last year. It was worked out to suit the court and the Judges. It is a natural progression. And it was nice to be back for Anzac Day and see friends.

“I have high hopes for my career. I will come back to New Zealand. I will find my way back home and back to the law.

“Kelly and I are still enjoying the US and hopefully will be there a bit longer, but I will certainly find my way back to the law here.”

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Last updated on the 24th May 2018