New Zealand Law Society - I fell in love with the place: Barbara Vague

I fell in love with the place: Barbara Vague

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By Turei Mackey 

Moving one’s practice from the busy urban environment of Auckland to a more serene lifestyle in rural North Canterbury is an idyllic dream but one tempered with the realities of major change.

Having to build up new business contacts in a rural area where the client base is small, and not to mention the difficultly of relocating, seems only possible if everything falls into place ‒ as it did for Barbara Vague back in 2003.

She is the only practising lawyer in the small town of Hanmer Springs with a population of under a thousand.

 “I was practising in Auckland and approaching a time when I was looking at alternative forms of practice and so I was looking into the possibility of practising in a small rural area,’’ she says.

“One of my children owned property in Mount Lyford and consequently I got to visit Hanmer Springs. I simply fell in love with the place as so many people do.”

Buying a property in 2003, Barbara set out a five-year plan for relocating her practice from Auckland to Hanmer Springs. This was completed in 2009 when she sold her Auckland-based practice to another law firm and began working exclusively in the small North Canterbury town.

“From 2004 I was doing a shuttle between Auckland and Hanmer Springs, just building up the contacts and getting a very small clientele base while continuing my practice in Auckland.”

 “Back in Auckland I did some litigation, mainly Family Court and tribunal work, but I also had a general practice in property conveyancing and commercial work.”

“There was a shift of that kind of practice down to Hanmer Springs although subsequent to the Christchurch earthquakes I now don’t do any court work. It was simply not cost effective for me, so now it is pretty much commercial, property conveyancing and estate work.’’

The closure of Queen Mary Hospital in Hanmer Springs in 2003 was a catalyst for Barbara’s almost instant involvement with the community.

“The Queen Mary Hospital was iconic for being a place of recovery and wellness. But economically speaking it was also a key part of the community in Hanmer Springs. Generally there was a fear that, with the closure of the hospital and loss of jobs in the community, the beautiful buildings and grounds would be abandoned,” she says.

 “So although at first I worried I might not be well received as being the ultimate outsider coming from Auckland, in fact I was welcomed by the founding trustees of the Queen Mary Reserve Trust as an additional member to support the process of keeping the land in public ownership.’’

The Queen Mary Reserve Trust successfully lobbied the then Labour Government from 2003 to 2008 to keep the northern six hectares of the Queen Mary Hospital land as a historic reserve.

“That has been my real engagement with the town. Sometimes it has been easy, sometimes it has not. But it is certainly something that I have been proud to be involved with.”

While the five-year plan begun in 2003 for continuing in her profession in a different way has been successful, Ms Vague believes much of it was serendipitous.

“I don’t know if the circumstances I have experienced here could be repeated elsewhere.

“It would depend on what your interests were and law has become so broad now that if you have a concept of ‘the law is my life’, these are my interests and ‘can I mould these around what I love and enjoy?’ then you will find a place.’’

This article was first published in LawTalk 826, 30 August 2013, page 9.

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