The thriving wine industry has seen the sunny South Island town of Blenheim evolve into a settlement with an international flavour.
“This is a small town, but with a depth of demographic not found in other quarters of New Zealand, and that is largely attributable to the wine industry,” says Simon Gaines, a Principal at Blenheim firm Lundons Law and President of the New Zealand Law Society’s Marlborough Branch.
Libby Lockhart, who is a consultant at Wain and Naysmith, moved to Marlborough in the 1990s, and has seen Blenheim become a lot more multicultural over the past 20-odd years. “It’s gone from being a very traditional town – and it’s still a quiet town at times – but there’s lots of people from all over the world who live here and it’s a lovely melting pot.”
The diverse community also creates some interesting work for Ms Lockhart, who specialises in family law. “With the family work, we have a lot of clients from overseas, so there’s international law issues with people wanting to take kids overseas and issues like that.”
Despite new international residents, Blenheim remains a provincial town where everybody knows everybody. “It’s a day-to-day thing, like going into a shop and they know your name. You build relationships with people. It’s personable, and that, to me, is the big thing,” she says.
The small town vibe also permeates the local legal scene, says Ms Lockhart. “You get to know everyone really well, so you know how people work, and can work to different people’s strengths. Generally, people make an effort to get on and that can be very helpful when you are dealing with matters. You can have some frank but professional discussion about things, but it’s positive and constructive.”
Adaptability and versatility
Mr Gaines, who moved to Blenheim a decade ago, says the lifestyle attraction to provinces, and Marlborough in particular, are obvious. “The difficulty is to retain people in this wonderful environment. I think getting people here is not too hard, but retaining them is the bit that’s difficult.”
He says an element of adaptability is necessary to do well in regional practice. “For a person who enjoys diversity of practice and problem-solving across a range of practice types then it’s perfect. To come to the provinces generally you need to have an outlook about practice that you wouldn’t expect to find with the young and eager in, say, a specialist city environment.”
Jacki Eves, an associate at Wain and Naysmith and the Vice President of the Law Society’s Marlborough branch, says lawyers need to be versatile. “The truism of ‘can do’ really applies here,” she says, adding there doesn’t seem to be a hierarchical culture. “Everybody just gets on with what needs to be done.”
She says the branch punches above its weight. “There’s a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience amongst Marlborough practitioners.”
Ms Eves grew up in Marlborough and moved back to the region four years ago, leaving a role as senior legal counsel at Gas Industry Co in Wellington. “Actually leaving Wellington was a difficult thing to do until the day I arrived in Blenheim, and I haven’t really looked back. I think the move into private practice in a firm like Wain and Naysmith has been a fairly natural fit for me and I really enjoy the work. It is a completely different way of working than in-house counsel, not least of all the number and variety of clients you have and the wide range of issues.”
Ms Eves believes it’s important to get involved in the local community and is on the Chamber of Commerce board and also volunteers at Community Law. “I know many other practitioners in town give their time to schools, sports clubs, boards Woman’s Refuge and the like.”
The opportunity to enjoy flexible working conditions to fit in around family commitments is also available at some Blenheim firms. Jodi Harris, who is an associate at Hardy-Jones Clark, has enjoyed a lot of flexibility since starting her family.
“My employers were very generous with maternity leave. I came back between children for originally one day a month. Then, when I had my second child, I came back when she was about two for one day a week.” As her children have gotten older, her hours have increased and now they are at school she works 9am to 3pm, five days a week.
“My boss said it’s useful to keep your hand in when you can, which means I haven’t come back after five years completely green and needing to start again.”
She says providing continuity is also important for clients. “There’s not a lot of moving around or firm-hopping. Clients like to know the person they’re speaking to on the phone is the person they’re going to meet.”