New Zealand Law Society - Lion Red man finds ordinary life in foreign supermarkets

Lion Red man finds ordinary life in foreign supermarkets

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David Blacktop
David Blacktop

When Commerce Commission principal competition lawyer and vinyl record buff David Blacktop went out on his own recently, his wife bought him a 1976 National Panasonic turntable for his office – with conditions.

“The deal is that for every new job I get to buy an album. I’ve got about eight or nine records already and am working through my favourites as each new job comes in,” says David, who, before setting up his own practice, spent five years with the Commerce Commission, and 10 years as a competition specialist with Bell Gully before that.

“I’m fascinated by Bruce Springsteen and enjoy US rock band Weezer, the Smashing Pumpkins and Foo Fighters. I turn on the turntable at work as the day gets long and I need a bit of pep to get through.

“I remember thumbing through my older sister’s LPs – girls always have a lot – which is probably how I got the bug for vinyl. And it’s cool to see all the records at Real Groovy.”

David Anthony Kevin (David) Blacktop
Entry to law
Graduated with Honours degree in economics and LLB from Victoria University in 2001. Admitted in 2002.
Barrister and solicitor and director at Blacktop Ltd, Auckland.
Speciality area
Competition and regulatory law.

Married to Nicola Hivon, who is area manager for ACC in Auckland, and with no children or pets – “we have enough trouble looking after ourselves” – David’s father was a Public Trust lawyer all his career, including about 15 or 16 years as deputy Public Trustee.

His father was the first in his family to go to university. His mother worked in the office at Public Trust, where the couple met.

“Mum’s family were farmers from Brookby, south of Auckland. The great great grandparents came from Ireland and settled there. Granddad was a bootmaker who ironically lost both his legs in the war.

‘Always going to law school’

“Going to university was not the thing in her family. Mum wanted to go but she was told that’s not what girls did. So she did secretarial school.

“I was always going to go to law school, but no thought was really given to it. At school I was concentrating on trying to be an All Black or Black Cap.

“I got to university and did law and economics and was doing well in economics so decided I wanted to be an economist. I paused the law degree and went all out on economics.

“I worked for the Reserve Bank in their equivalent of summer clerking, but didn’t enjoy it. I was working on a project by myself for three months and that didn’t enthuse me.

“So I went back and finished the law degree. A mate took me along to one of those recruiting evenings with law firms. I managed to wangle a job at Bell Gully for the summer and next thing they wined and dined me and 10 years later I was still there.

“I can’t say it was a conscious strategy. One thing happened after another and I was enjoying it, so stayed on.

“It was always part of the plan to go out on my own. I was progressing well at Bell Gully and was initially interested in being a partner in a big firm. But I got to the end of 10 years and all the challenges of trying to make a speciality like competition law work in a big firm became apparent to me.

“I’d looked at how things worked in the UK, Europe and the US, where a lot of lawyers were going from private practice into regulators, spending some time there and coming out again.

“I guess that hasn’t really happened much in New Zealand, there’s not much of a tradition of it, certainly not in regulators like the Commerce Commission, for example.

“I figured that if I was going to make a go of this competition specialty I needed to do something a bit different, so I worked with the Commerce Commission, learning how they operate, seeing how it works from the other side and then jump back into private practice and benefit from the experience on both sides. Making the point of difference.”

“When I joined the Commission I thought I would walk back into a big firm at some point, but competition law is quite a small speciality and all the big firms are well serviced by really good lawyers. So I decided to do something different and go out by myself. And I don’t have the conflict problems you have in big firms.”

Finding himself in endurance events

An accomplished age group triathlete in his spare time, David did a half ironman event while at Bell Gully “to prove to myself I could do it”.

“When you are in a big firm you have a lot invested in that. I wanted to be a partner and a lot of my self-worth was tied up with that. When I made the decision to leave and do something different, you have to find yourself again. It’s not healthy being entirely focused on work.

“I got back into triathlon and occasionally I might get a podium position in my age group. I’m not a superstar.

“Swimming and running are my strengths. I never learned to ride a bike as a kid. That was the challenge, learning to ride a bike properly and be comfortable as a 35-36 year old coming back to it.

“Finishing is my preference and having a beer afterwards.”

David represented New Zealand at the world triathlon event in Cozumel, Mexico, last year, finishing 31st in his age group – where he witnessed from the sideline “probably the most amazing sporting event I have ever seen in my life”, in a race featuring the world’s best.

In a moment of great sportsmanship, dazed Great Britain athlete Jonny Brownlee was helped over the line by his brother Alistair, who shunned the chance to win the elite race to come to his struggling brother’s aid in a dramatic end to the world triathlon series.

“Our age group race was in the morning, so we were right there when it happened.”

David’s other most memorable sporting moment was seeing Grant Elliot’s winning six in the 2015 cricket World Cup semi-final against South Africa – putting New Zealand into their first ever final.

“What these events had in common was that each evoked a pretty raw emotional response from the crowd that was amazing to be part of.”

He says future triathlon targets are “subject to negotiation” and he is eyeing up a couple of half ironman races next summer. “I’d like to have another crack at the standard distance world age group champs at some stage.”

Supermarkets in foreign countries

“We have travelled quite a bit in the US – my wife likes it there – and we particularly like Palm Springs, Los Angeles and Venice Beach. We just venture out and walk around.

“Among the strange things we like is going to supermarkets in a foreign country. It is such an ordinary thing and it shows us how things work in different countries. But it gets behind the curtain a bit to see what the place is like, if anything in LA is real.”

Like some lawyers David’s doesn’t feel like doing much reading after a day spent poring over legal papers.

“I like autobiographies … Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, Andre Agassi’s Open, Michael J Fox’s Lucky Man. I’m interested in their reflections on themselves, how they got to where they are and what they do to be successful.

“I enjoy documentaries and good comedy shows - Bill Murray is my favourite. I watched Get Me Roger Stone on Netflix. He’s a political operative – a dirty trickster - who worked for Richard Nixon and is close to Donald Trump.

“I’ll watch anything on cyclist Lance Armstrong - I think he is a fascinating individual. When he came here last year it was polarising. Some people were really for him and were riding with him, some were dead against him.

“He’s got an ability to be magnetic and charismatic. He got away with doping for so long and people were happy to cover it up for him.”

Away from work David and Nicola get to their bach at Mt Maunganui as often as they can, in his 2007 Audi A3. “I’m not a car guy but it does the job.”

“I would probably be a secondary school teacher if I wasn’t lawyering. One of my sisters is a teacher. When I was younger and having dark moments as a young lawyer and wondering what I would do if I won Lotto, I thought of being a teacher.”

With Bill Murray, Bruce Springsteen and Lance Armstrong around the dinner table – “and someone like John Campbell to emcee it” – David’s specialty would be a lamb roast with roast potato, roast kumara, peas and lots of gravy.

And if this beer-drinking bloke was feeling exotic he would serve up Steinlager Pure - but more likely his favourite, Lion Red.

“Anything that’s NOT craft beer.”

“My uncle drank Lion Red, Dad drank Lion Brown, and you couldn’t get much further from craft beer, which is too challenging to drink. I can’t drink more than one or two before it creeps up on you.”

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