New Zealand Law Society - Father and son enjoy courtroom jousting

Father and son enjoy courtroom jousting

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When he's not cooking up exotic dishes for friends Leo Farmer immerses himself in non-law-related projects – his latest is the one-year restoration of a 1978 Fiat 124 Spider.

With help from his Queen's Counsel father, noted sailor and occasional courtroom adversary Jim Farmer, Leo says the restoration may not be state of the art "but it will look good".

Leo Charles Alfred (Leo) Farmer
Entry to law
Graduated BA(Hons) and LLB(Hons) from Auckland University in 2006, LLM from London School of Economics and Political Science in 2007. Admitted 2006. 
Partner in Meredith Connell's commercial practice group. 
Speciality area
General commercial and civil litigation for both private and public sector clients.

He says the two-door convertible is "mechanically very good and cosmetically hopeless."

"The task is to make it look as well as it runs…"

He says that unlike his gardening projects – "ripping everything out and replanting" - the Fiat is a much slower process.

"I have a great interest in cars [his day car is a Volvo] but don't understand how they work and are out together … This is about how things are put together.

 Leo Farmer
Leo Farmer

"We are trying to keep it original, except when it can be made better.

"The plan is to keep it and take out on weekend, it's not for going to work.

"I take the attitude with work and anything I do outside work, that if I'm going to do it I've got to get the detail right…"

Recently made a partner at Auckland Crown warrant holder Meredith Connell, where he has worked – with a year off to complete his masters degree at the London School of Economics and Political Science - since his admission in 2006, Leo has extensive experience in relation to cartel and price fixing proceedings brought by the Commerce Commission.

"The LSE has a reputation for having an alumnus full of despots and dictators, but it's great university, and one of the nicer smaller London colleges."

Leo's plan was to return to New Zealand after his masters and get his post qualified experience up so he could go back to the UK and work, but the developing global financial crisis made it unattractive.

"By the time things picked up I was enjoying what I was doing here, and have always been with Meredith Connell."

In a protracted courtroom wrangle over whether New Zealand courts had jurisdiction to impose pecuniary penalties against eight major airlines for price-fixing (Commerce Commission v Air New Zealand Ltd & Ors), Leo scored a significant victory for the Commission against the airlines – including the one his Dad represented.

"We beat him and I enjoyed the experience … No doubt he'll get one back…

"It's important to have something outside work which gives a bit of relief from the stresses of work - although some of my projects cause their own stresses…

"It also gives a bit of perspective about the work you are doing and that there are things outside of the law…

"It's important we remember that as lawyers, both for our own sanity but it also helps you relate to your clients interests and makes you a more interesting person…

"I love projects and always have something on the go. I'm an avid gardener and when I bought a house I took great delight dedicating every weekend for a couple of months ripping everything out of the garden and replacing it.

"It's mostly flowers … I have slight green fingers but that doesn't extend to anything you can eat…"

He's also tackled restoring an old couch of his grandmothers "with help from someone who knew what they were doing…"

"It doesn't really matter what the project is if it gives a bit of distraction from work and is something to get excited about…"

Cooking and eating is another passion: "I spend hours on the weekend cooking and having people over for dinner."

A trip to Morocco earlier this year presented another eating challenge.

"I'll eat anything, the spicier the better, and am keen on a lot of foods you don't usually come across."

He likes interesting Scandanavian food and recently experimented on work colleagues with the Swedish dish gravlax – basically raw salmon packed with salt and citrus, which involves a three-day preparation.

"They all turned up for work so it couldn't have been too bad."

With Dad Jim a major-league sailor, former director of Team New Zealand and a member of America's Cup race management, sailing is in the family.

"I used to be a really big sailor and it's always great spending a bit of time sailing with Dad and the experienced guys he sails with.

"But you have to commit many hours to sailing and the team and turn up everytime and these days it's hard to make the time.

"Time is more precious now I'm a partner.

"I wish I could read more … I read The Economist every week and re-read Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman, which are both worth reading … Although Watchman showed the power of having a good editor…

[Jim Farmer also read these books when he went on a recent 7000km road trip across the United States in a Chev Corvette.]

"Like a number of lawyers I follow legal drama Suits on television but cannot stomach competitive cooking shows…

"I like a bit of everything musical. I'm a massive Sting and Talking Heads fan but there's nothing wrong with a bit of Katy Perry … And I like Nina Simone and the jazz greats…

"I was forced to learn the piano most of my childhood and even did School Cert music, but I do not sing or play any instruments … Unlike my sister who played for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra as a percussionist … She did a music degree and a commerce degree, which is why she's a banker…"

"If I wasn't a lawyer I would be an architect.

"Detail and design is fascinating … I'm a big fan of design that looks good, is simple and makes people's lives easier … Unfortunately I have no mathematical ability so that probably wouldn't stand up…

"And I'm a fan of British designer and television presenter Kevin "Grand Designs" McCloud …. Him and UK show For The Love Of Cars, [presented by actor and car enthusiast Philip Glenister and restoration expert Ant Anstead.]

Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for most of his career in journalism. Contact Jock at

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