From peddling art and jewellery on the hot beaches of Santorini in Greece, employment lawyer Luana Nickles moved to another hot spot – representing Australian fire service employers in a major union dispute.
Based in Melbourne after leaving London and sun-soaked Greece, and specialising in industrial relations, health and safety, employment and discrimination law, Luana was in the thick of a far-reaching dispute in which her firm was representing fire services during negotiations with unions.
“It was very political and all sorts of legislative changes following that dispute because of the impact it had on 40,000 volunteer fire fighters,” she says.
- Luana Te Ao Theresa (Luana) Nickles (Te Whakatōhea and Ngāi Tai)
- Entry to law
- Graduated BA, LLB from Auckland University in 2006, LLM from Waikato University in 2008 and Graduate Diploma in Employment and Labour Relations from Melbourne University in 2017. Admitted in 2006.
- Senior counsel at Anthony Harper, Auckland.
- Speciality area
- Employment law.
She also worked on a prominent case pursuing disgraced New Zealand-born federal MP and former Australian health service union official Craig Thomson, who was accused and convicted of misusing union funds.
After coming home to New Zealand a year ago, Luana was recently promoted to senior counsel in Anthony Harper’s national employment team, based in Auckland.
Luana and her physiotherapist husband Kane left New Zealand in 2009 for what turned out to be a longer than intended OE.
She worked at Wackrow Williams & Davies for three years before they initially decided to head off to Europe for two years.
“We were just travelling around doing whatever jobs came along to keep us going and ended up working in Greece. We were in Santorini during the summer season, getting about five euros an hour working ridiculously long days. I was at a weird hippy shop on the beach selling art and jewellery. Kane was on the beach doing the rounds offering massages to tourists. It was a lot of fun as beach hippies.
“Living in Greece was amazing and ironic because we probably earned the least and had the most fun.”
The couple then moved to various fill-in jobs in London, including as live-in carers for elderly people who needed assistance.
More travelling followed before Luana was hired by multi-national law firm Stephenson Harwood in London. “Kane was in the process of being registered in the UK as a physio but it was a long process so we decided to look to home.
“Then he got a job in Melbourne and we ended up there longer than we thought – seven years. I worked in the law there for Corrs Chambers Westgarth and in 2016 we had our first baby, daughter Maia.”
After the birth of Maia, the couple returned to New Zealand, where “we are still trying to figure out the work/balance - it’s an ongoing situation. My parents are extremely helpful and my mother Katerina will take any opportunity to look after Maia.”
Originally from Opotiki, her now retired father Keith was a builder, and her Māori mother was initially a nurse. After having three sons, Katerina continued nursing, but after Luana was born she decided to go into teaching.
“Mum came with me to school and helped out, then she trained to be a teacher. We were in Auckland and Mum worked in a Māori school then became a special education adviser with the Education Ministry.”
Luana went through Māori schooling until she was 14 and is a fluent speaker of Te Reo.
Economics loss, law’s gain
The first lawyer in her family, she says she “fell” into law. “Legal studies wasn’t offered at school then. I left school not knowing what I wanted to do.
“I was good at economics so I thought maybe an economist. Mum always instilled in me that I was going to university. I think I applied for everything, medicine, engineering, architecture, the whole lot.
“I initially started a BCom, and thought I was going to be an economist, but hated that in the first year. After talking to friends I decided to move across to law.
“I was considering law or medicine but turned down the offer to go into medicine because I couldn’t handle the thought of working on a dead body, culturally for me I couldn’t do it.
“I had hobbies before Maia came along, now it’s whatever gets her active and gives her a good nap.
“We like catching up with family, and going to the playground. “We spend a lot of time with our family because we were overseas for so long and we are making up now.
“Kane and I have been big travellers and we would love to do that again when we can. Touch rugby was our thing in Australia and multi-sport events, such as mountain biking and running. I would love to get back into that again.
“We are largely focusing on a DIY renovation on our 1940s State home, a solid concrete building which needs a lot of work. We are slowly working on it at night and weekends to get it up to a standard acceptable to move into.
“I like music but can’t play anything and don’t sing or dance. I like good kiwi bands - Six60 and Fat Freddy’s Drop. My family are very talented singers, and my extended family is big in kapa haka, but not me.
“My favourite holiday spot in New Zealand is Opotiki where my marae is. We go down whenever we can to see family. I like anything near a beach, water and snorkeling.
“Diving for seafood was a big thing when we were younger, to get my mum kina.
“I would say I’m a country girl at heart even though we moved to the city when I was about 10 for work. I very much like to be out of the city when I can.
“I read the odd book, non-fiction and biographies, but I read and forget. I like a good crime story and watching crime TV, but I have not done criminal law.
“I watch mindless reality TV and get hooked on things like DIY programmes.”
Grubby the tearaway
“We have a seven-year-old racing greyhound called Grubby, which we rescued in Melbourne. We adopted him and he came back home with us.
“They are strict over there about adopted greyhounds. They have to be always on a lead and muzzled. They are placid dogs but there is some perception they would bite.
“Grubby did well and won $30,000. He’s quick and was keeping us busy before we had our daughter.
“I don’t own a car right now, but it would be a VW Golf if I had one. I’m borrowing a car right now because of the whole situation with our house and also my car spot in Auckland city is tiny.
“The car I did have – a Mitsubishi Outlander – doesn’t fit. Kane drives that, to his dismay, and I will have choice of a small zippy car soon.
“Kane does the cooking, I do the eating. I would have my family as dinner guests. My grandparents would be cool. My grandmother had a hard life and had to work hard, a really tough life.
“I’ll eat anything, but I think we’d do Asian fusion, with good pork belly and a little bit of spice.
“If I wasn’t a lawyer I would do something creative. An interior designer or an architect.
“Staging houses for sale interests me. Architecture was the one degree I should have done but didn’t enroll in. I love looking at houses and designing, and thinking of what the possibilities are.
“I’m open minded with opportunities, what I do and where I head and I’m taking things as they come. I think things happen for a reason. I think I’m chilled out about ambition and the future and go with the flow.”
Over a long career in journalism Jock Anderson has spent many hours in courtrooms and talking to members of the legal profession. He can be contacted at email@example.com