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Daniel Kalderimis: The narrative of litigation

22 August 2014

By Rachael Breckon

Chapman Tripp partner Daniel Kalderimis loved The Luminaries.

He suspects it could appeal to litigators because it unravels slowly like a complicated case.

Mr Kalderimis’s most interesting case was the one where he acted for a Russian oligarch.

The oligarch was being sued in a commercial dispute arising in Bermuda by a mutual investment fund, which was, the litigation slowly revealed, really a front for a Russian government minister.

The key piece of evidence in the $2.5 billion dispute was a secret recorded conversation that took place at the Ritz in London. It was recorded on a camera that had been installed in the curtains. The witness who filmed it then shopped around seeking the best price.

“The client would arrive to our meetings and take all the batteries out of his mobile phone before he would talk because he was convinced he was bugged,” he says.

A protagonist brutally murdered in Latvia soon after the case ended illustrates the level of the stakes.

The major money laundering, corruption, commercial dispute spanned many jurisdictions, including Sweden, Bermuda, New York, Russia and the British Virgin Islands over three to four years.

During the case, Mr Kalderimis was not permitted to go to Russia, though he visited afterwards.

He didn’t fear for his own personal safety, although “there was one point when I was cross-examining a very large CEO of a Russian telecommunications company at an arbitration in Sweden. The witness looked like he wanted to jump out of his chair and do unspeakable things.”

Mr Kalderimis admits the case was exhilarating, much like a movie, and probably a once in a lifetime litigation experience.

It seems hard to believe the Wellington raised, and Victoria University educated lawyer could have been prepared for a litigation landscape so vastly different to New Zealand.

Mr Kalderimis insists “it’s not such a huge shift, in many ways, because while New Zealanders are laid-back and trusting on one hand, we are also pragmatic and efficient on the other and we do want to win and achieve results. So once you realise that the stakes are so high that you really have to knuckle down and pay attention, you just do that.”

But how can the next case compare?

“It’s amazing how you just wrap yourself up in the next story that your clients have, because litigation is so much about narratives, about stories, and once you get a new case, you have that commitment, attention to detail, and you try to work out what is the best case your client is able to make,” Mr Kalderimis says.

“I find that an interesting and quite fulfilling exercise. It is worth getting up for.”

The love of narrative comes through in all aspects of Mr Kalderimis’s passion for law (he also has a BA in English Literature and Philosophy). He was drawn to the profession through a mooting competition at law school.

“I saw that this was an opportunity to do debating, but with some content to it. The format also rewarded an ability to persuade by answering questions instead of just talking,” he says.

“It all made sense to me. The way I think lends itself to absorbing a whole lot of information, synthesising it, simplifying it and being able to use it to respond effectively to questions.

“I suppose I decided not so much to be a lawyer but to be an advocate.”

So he went to law school, graduated top of his year, went to work as a judge’s clerk for Justice Thomas at the Court of Appeal, then got a job at Chapman Tripp working with Jack Hodder QC. After a year and a half there, he was off on a Fulbright Scholarship to Columbia University to study international economic law.

After Columbia University, Mr Kalderimis moved to London where he worked for Freshfields for five years, practising international arbitration. In 2009 he and his wife Katherine decided to return to New Zealand.

The move was not driven by the decision to have children but by a desire to make a difference in their own country – although since returning they have had two daughters, Isla and Holly.

“I want to be a New Zealander contributing to New Zealand. That sounds aspirational, but it was really what the Fulbright philosophy was about, which I bought into when I left,” he says. That obligation to New Zealand “probably runs deep into my character, because my father was a Romanian refugee who came to New Zealand in 1950, not speaking any English. But he and his family were welcomed, built their lives here and became New Zealanders.

“What I love about this country is that it is possible for immigrants to come and be a part of the country and it’s not necessary for them to simply adopt its institutions and culture. They can add their little stamp to them and help shape the community.

“I think that New Zealand is a land of opportunity,” he says. But he admits it is a constant balancing process coming back.

“I now feel like I have a footing in two different worlds. I am a commercial litigator practising commercial litigation in New Zealand. And that’s my main role at Chapman Tripp. But I also relate strongly to the international arbitration world, which is growing within the Asia Pacific. The overlap in New Zealand between these two worlds is not presently very large, but it is growing. I am fortunate, while living in Wellington, to have the opportunity to be a part of both.”

This profile was first published in LawTalk 846, 18 July 2014, page 13. 

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Last updated on the 17th August 2015