New Zealand Law Society - Ian Ross looks back over 50 years in practice

Ian Ross looks back over 50 years in practice

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Ian Ross
Ian Ross

Admitted as a barrister and solicitor in January 1967, Ian Ross recently wound down a long and successful legal career as a consultant for Auckland-based property law firm AlexanderDorrington. His six years there followed its acquisition of Ross & Whitney in 2014. I asked him about his long career and the changes he’s seen over time.

Learning how to think

Ian gained an honours law degree from the University of Auckland. He went on to obtain a coveted Bachelor of Civil Law from Oxford University in England.

He credits his two years at Oxford for teaching him how to think. He reflects that nobody can know everything about the law, but a good law school will turn out great thinkers who can recognise what they need to know and have the skills to find it. Mixing with some of the world’s most brilliant legal minds was also hugely beneficial in developing his own.

A legal legacy

As many clients became close personal friends, Ian gained huge satisfaction from the contribution he made to their lives, sometimes acting for three or four generations of one family. He was delighted when young people chose to work with him. Admitting in his understated way that, “maybe he was doing something right”.

He comes from a family of noted professionals who excelled in business. But rather than pursue a high-profile career himself, Ian preferred to remain under the radar measuring success through that of his clients.

What his colleagues say

Ian and Ken Whitney enjoyed the best of partnerships and built their successful practice over 20 years. Ian reflects that there was never an argument between them in all the years they worked together, even though it wasn’t always plain sailing.

“Ian is a person of the highest integrity who cares deeply about people and ensuring they are treated fairly,” says Ken. “He devoted his career to helping people through their legal issues with a calm and reassuring manner backed by an extraordinary ability to see the heart of the problem.”

Ken says Ian has a real feel for the law – “a tremendous intellect and breadth of knowledge which was invaluable to his clients. He has a long record of achieving successful outcomes which have been enormously appreciated.”

“As much as his legal expertise, Ian’s deep humanity and understanding of the human condition, with all its messy frailties and imperfections, which can often muddy the waters of legal disputes, have shone through. He is not judgmental but is perceptive which leads to wise and practical guidance appropriate to the circumstances.”

The directors of AlexanderDorrington say they’ve thoroughly enjoyed having Ian in the firm. Debra Dorrington, Denise Marsden and Jourdan Griffin say everyone appreciated his caring manner.

“In an era when lawyers are so busy trying to keep up with the many demands of modern practice, Ian always made time for his clients. It is a testament to Ian’s character and his skills as a lawyer, that he has maintained lifelong friendships with both his clients and his colleagues.”

The AlexanderDorrington experience

Since joining the Shortland Street firm, Ian worked closely with its Senior Legal Executive, Megan Mischewski, whom he describes as “exceptional”. Thus, the transition from running his firm to being part of a larger one was easy on both sides. He now knows he leaves his clients in the hands of “extremely good lawyers”.

When Ian started practising, lawyers were more generalist. They turned their hands to just about any aspect of the law. Greater specialisation has gone hand-in-hand with the transition of law from a profession to a business. Now a more transactional commercial process – the traditional concept of the family lawyer is gradually disappearing. As a rule, lawyers become less personally engaged in clients’ lives.

Ian considers himself fortunate to have practised in an era when you could make a good living without commercial stress. He recognises the role of a good practice manager as pivotal to the structure of today’s firms.

What’s next?

Ian recommends a gradual disengagement for lawyers considering retirement, working part-time prior to finishing. He knows he will miss coming to work, however and plans to continue providing his expertise to the community by working with the Citizens Advice Bureau.

Jacki Jeanmonod is an Auckland-based marketing consultant

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