New Zealand Law Society - How law gave top scientist a new lease of life

How law gave top scientist a new lease of life

This article is over 3 years old. More recent information on this subject may exist.

By Jock Anderson

John Gray (John) Robertson
75 on 17 November 2014. 
Entry to law
Graduated LLB, Auckland University 1992. Admitted June 1993. 
Principal and director of Hauraki Gulf Law, Waiheke Island. 
Speciality area
Criminal, family, employment, civil, commercial, property law and Waitangi Tribunal claims.
John Robertson
John Robertson

Dr John Robertson went from being a top government scientist at the peak of his career on Friday to a law student at 8 am on Monday.

At 50, his career change – “there’s nothing more exciting than changing career” - and appearance on Auckland University campus rocked his arts student sons.

“They never invited me to their student parties.”

As director of the then Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) Biotechnology Division based in Palmerston North in 1989, John was faced with the dilemma of huge changes.

“I was faced with the implications of change, closing down the division, all staff being changed around and having to put off staff whom I admired.

“As a fundamental research scientist my heart was not in trying to meet the new requirements of making money and profit.

“I knew the change was coming and I had some experience in intellectual property law so I got on my bike and came to see Professor Jock Brookfield at Auckland law school.”

John was accepted and joined law student ranks along with Jonathan Temm, Ken Patterson, Todd Strathdee and Joanna Pidgeon.

“They adopted me and looked after me. There was another group who were concerned I was taking an opportunity away from their young friends. But now I have developed my own practice and creating positions for young people entering law.”

It was a sea shift for a scientist who graduated from Otago University with first class honours in 1964, got his PhD at Massey University in 1968, had written numerous scientific papers, won a Damon Runyon scholarship to conduct cancer research in the United States for two years and spent a total of 12 years on research between the US and England.

Five years of research went into his “crowning glory” – a significant paper on symbiotic nitrogen fixation and membrane biogenesis.

John says the disciplines of science were of great assistance in learning law.

He finished law with a senior prize and came under the wing of Clive Elliott at Baldwin Son & Carey, then Stephen Bryers at Martelli McKegg.

He set up on Waiheke Island, where he and his lawyer wife Carol are now directors of Hauraki Gulf Law (HGL) with ten staff and about to soon open an Auckland branch office next to his old mates Kendall Sturm & Foote.

The couple share interests in music and films and last year visited the Metropolitan Opera House in New York – a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

On Waiheke, John is a regular contributor of short stories to the Gulf News and in 2008 published a children’s book, illustrated by Jennifer Fountain, called The Ice Is Melting, reflecting his environmental concerns through the eyes of Henry the humpback whale, Moana the wandering albatross and Sammy the seal pup.

“Short stories come to me in the night - I’m working on one now called Meatball.

“ I have never regretted changing from science to law.

“Litigation and standing before a judge is the really exciting part of law.

“Standing in front of a judge you have nowhere to hide…” 

Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for several decades. He also writes the weekly Caseload column for the New Zealand Herald. Contact Jock at

Lawyer Listing for Bots