New Zealand Law Society - Impassioned by our justice system: Erin Ebborn

Impassioned by our justice system: Erin Ebborn

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By Sasha Borissenko 

Erin Ebborn of Christchurch’s Ebborn Law first had her heart set on becoming a lawyer as an 11-year-old while watching the American television legal drama Matlock.

After studying law and political science at Canterbury University, she set up camp in Palmerston North in 1999 under family lawyer Bruce Andrews. But after two and a half years she wanted to come home to Christchurch, where she worked as an associate with Cuningham Taylor and then Layburn Hodgins.

When Erin enrolled in the Stepping Up course in 2012 she had no intention of becoming a sole practitioner, instead thinking it “prudent in the uncertainty of post-earthquake Christchurch to gain the qualification”, she says.

“I wish I had done [the course] years earlier – not because of any intention to set up my own practice, but because it opened my eyes and challenged my assumptions about the practice of law beyond merely dealing with clients.”

It was then that Erin saw an opportunity to build a new type of law firm, especially in the wake of changes to the family law system and legal aid.

“Like most family lawyers I was initially shocked when I saw the new fixed fee regime for family legal aid. My immediate thought was that it would no longer be financially viable to offer legal aid service.”

However, together with CEO Jarrod Coburn, she spent six months reviewing the proposed reforms and planning how the use of technology, line management processes and good systems could make legal aid provision more cost-effective.

Ebborn Law opened in September 2012 with the knowledge that many family lawyers were putting family legal aid in the “too hard basket”, allowing Ebborn Law to slide into the market offering a niche service, she says.

Two years on and Ebborn Law is the second-largest South Island legal aid provider overall, and possibly the largest provider of family legal aid in the South Island, according to Ministry of Justice statistics. Erin acknowledges the encouragement and support received along the way from the profession locally and her staff.

“Ebborn Law provides legal aid as well as the family legal advice service because it’s important to us that people are able to receive sound legal advice and have access to the justice system.

“No two days are the same. Sometimes I say it’s a bit like being on Shortland Street. Family law clients are often going through some of the more difficult times in their lives. It is rewarding to provide guidance through an emotional process.

“The quirks of human nature mean that even if the legal issues are the same, each case is different. Having said that, despite almost 16 years in practice I’m still surprised sometimes how low humans can sink in terms of their actions towards one other.”

It doesn’t stop there for Erin, who has twice been a list candidate for the Labour Party, once run as an electorate candidate and at times been involved in party policy development. She also currently sits on the executive of the Family Law Section of the New Zealand Law Society and is a board member of sexual abuse support agency Start: Timataia te mahu-oranga.

“I have the heart of an activist but am kept in check by my commitments as an Officer of the Court, which I feel is a good balance. What impassions me most is our system of justice and the role it plays in our democratic and human rights.”

This was first published in LawTalk 852, 10 October 2014, page 5.

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