New Zealand Law Society - Moving to practise – and ballroom dance – 19,000km away

Moving to practise – and ballroom dance – 19,000km away

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Nicola Keating, barrister, Barristers.Comm, Wellington

Nicola Keating
Nicola Keating

Newly admitted to the New Zealand Bar, Nicola Keating grew up in Rochdale, northern England.

After completing her law studies and admission in 1998, Nicola practised as a solicitor in England for 20 years. During her two-decade long career, she obtained her Higher Rights of Audience (HRA) in Criminal Proceedings. HRAs allow solicitors to represent clients as a solicitor-advocate in the senior civil or criminal courts throughout England and Wales – and they get to wear a wig and gown.

Ms Keating’s area of expertise was appearing in the magistrates’ and Crown courts in England for a range of different local authorities relating to taxi regulatory matters, health and safety at work, licensing, environmental law, fraud act cases and a whole host of local government legal matters. She also worked as a domestic violence champion consulting for councils, police, housing and social services support services to link together to help those affected by domestic violence in the Cumbria area.

On top of all this, in her spare time, Nicola founded a law clinic in Carlisle – near the border with Scotland – where she offered pro bono legal services for those needing legal advice as well as assistance to clients.

But, after a professional career spanning two decades, it was time for a change.

“I moved here in September 2018. I had never visited New Zealand before, I heard it was incredibly beautiful, and have found that it is.

“The legal systems are very similar and it has been fascinating studying New Zealand constitutional law, contract, criminal, property, torts and equity law to compare and contrast the two. I find the accident compensation scheme a very interesting piece of legislation and the Torrens land system was particularly interesting to get one’s head around. I very much enjoyed studying New Zealand equity and trusts law and am interested in that area of legal work here.”

Admitted here in 2019, Nicola says, with tongue-in-cheek, that the main difference between the English and New Zealand court systems is that she doesn’t get to wear a wig here, unless it’s a special occasion.

You have worked mainly in criminal, regulatory and government. What about these areas interests you?

“I am passionate about appearing in court and love advocacy. I have always loved preparing and presenting cases on behalf of local government and upholding the important standards that the local community expects.

“Now I have studied afresh a whole range of New Zealand legal areas, I am very keen to branch out and practise in a range of areas and keen to undertake any junior barrister roles available in all areas of law.”

Are there any issues currently facing lawyers and/or the legal system as a whole that you’d like to highlight?

“A big concern for me is access to justice; this is an issue both in England and in New Zealand.

“I believe everyone should have access to justice and cuts in legal aid have placed this in jeopardy. Pro bono work is increasingly important and I believe in giving back to our community so that lawyers can help as many people as possible and be a positive force for change in our communities for the better.”

Nicola says Barristers.Comm, with lawyer Chris Griggs at the helm, is partnering with Te Herenga Waka, Victoria University of Wellington by offering their first (annual) internship to Māori and Pasifika law students in 2020.

Can you tell me about someone who inspires you?

“I am inspired by Iris Apfel, the American businesswoman and interior designer, for her effortless style and super cool chic look and her amazing work ethic.

“I am greatly troubled by the statistic in England that two women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner and was saddened to learn that domestic violence is a serious issue here in New Zealand too, so I would say I am inspired to do what I can in in this area to help those affected by domestic and family violence here in New Zealand.”

What do you do after a long day to decompress and maintain a work/life balance?

“I am a Latin American and ballroom dancer. I started when I was seven but have had many years off in between. I have an amazing dance teacher here in Wellington, Liam Read, and I will be doing professional/amateur competitions in New Zealand this year with Liam, which is really exciting.

“I am starting a beginners Japanese language course in February and have always wanted to visit Japan which I hope to do soon.”

Angharad O’Flynn is a Wellington-based journalist.

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