New Zealand Law Society - Organised Aussie crime opened eyes to 'geriatric' mother-at-law

Organised Aussie crime opened eyes to 'geriatric' mother-at-law

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Nikki Pender
Nikki Pender

Working both sides of the Tasman, including several years with the New South Wales Crime Commission, Crown Law and the New Zealand Commerce Commission, gave Nikki Pender an insight to the use of expert witnesses – so she founded a business to train them.

After six years at Crown Law before moving to Sydney, she returned in 2002 to work for the Commerce Commission for three years, including working on the Air New Zealand/Qantas merger, where she says it was a privilege to work with “extraordinarily good expert witnesses … and I love competition law.”

She went to the Bar after that where she developed her interest in expert witnesses.

Nicola Maree (Nikki) Pender
Entry to law
Graduated LLB from Victoria University in 1988, LLM from Sydney University. Admitted in 1989. Admitted in New South Wales and Australia in 1995.
Partner and director at Franks Ogilvie, Wellington
Specialist area
Public, constitutional, competition, economic regulation and consumer law.

“I have always been interested in witness preparation, what we can and cannot do and whether we do enough to prepare them – and that interest has grown.”

As a result of negotiating a licence with Bond Solon – a leading UK-based legal training and information company with a focus on expert witnesses training – Nikki formed Legal Empowerment, providing training specifically designed for those who give evidence in their expert role.

“I would like to get to a stage when I have lots of other trainers – the right people – and grow the business. I’m enjoying the teaching side and balancing it with my practice.”

While working in Australia she completed a Masters degree in administrative law and policy at the University of Sydney.

“The New South Wales Crime Commission was set up because too many inquiries showed organised crime usually centred around some corrupt cop.

“So they had to have an independent body serviced by good cops. A lot of the work related to drugs and proceeds of drugs. One particularly good one we got involved in was people finding loopholes in different state sales tax around cigarettes.

“There was a big investigation around that, including dawn raids – which I didn’t get to go on. But they had it all scuttled by a decision of the High Court which said the sales tax was illegal under constitution anyway - something technical like that.

“Our work was always around organised crime and was a real eye opener.”

Wobbly pathway to the profession

“I always said I was going to do law. I remember when I wanted to be a lawyer and my parents encouraged me. And, apart from an auntie who had a bachelor’s degree, I was the first in the family to go to university.

“I lost it a bit in sixth and seventh form and wasn’t sure about law. Law was a bit overwhelming. It was an untrod path so I was finding my way.

“I stumbled along at university in the early days and failed two subjects, which is probably the best lesson I had, then hit my stride. I had two papers left in my last year when all my friends had finished.

“I looked around for what job I could do and, suddenly, there’s an ad in the law library from Crown Law Office for law clerk positions, saying you can go to university and come and do administration work at the same time.

“So I got my foot in the door and thought ‘Oh my God this is amazing’.”

Nikki says working at Crown Law was the biggest lesson of her career, working for former Solicitors-General and later Judges Paul Neazor and Sir John McGrath and former deputy Solicitor-General Craig Thompson, now an Environment Court judge.

“It was only after I finished university and started law that I looked around and said ‘This is great - it’s exactly what I wanted to do’.

“When I finished my degree I became a Crown Counsel assistant and those three men were very supportive of women before it became almost compulsory. They had a natural genuineness and their different styles helped me develop. My career was in the most supportive environment.”

With a seven-year-old daughter Phoebe, and describing herself at 50 as a “geriatric mother-at-law,” Nikki says she feels she is a better lawyer having the work and family balance.

Husband Steve Douche, who is well-known in the film and television industry, produces corporate videos and Nikki says they just get on and “do family life together”.

“It’s not by any grand design – it seems to work serendipitously, we have a rhythm going and family we can call on to help out if needed.”

Prince Buster

Nikki has two younger brothers, one an osteopath in Wellington and the youngest a musician and writer based in London.

The family includes a big fat three-year-old British blue cat called Buster, a sleek three-year-old American Bombay cat called Pippy and a tank of tropical fish. “I am entranced by those fish.”

“Cars are not my thing - we have an old silver coloured Audi station wagon – and I’m looking forward to driverless cars.

“We live in Wadestown, in a community of houses on the hill with a community garden we moved to last year and we do a bit of DIY around the house.

“One of our neighbours has opened a board game café and we have board game nights, which is a lot of fun.

“My favourite writers would be US novelist and screenwriter John Irvine (The Cider House Rules), Canadian novelist, playwright and academic Robertson Davies and Agatha Christie. I am going through an obsessive Agatha Christie retro stage. She is a master at her craft, easy to read and to fit around time. I love Miss Marple and Poirot.

“I used to go to movies but not much now – we have a home theatre. I have the boxset binge thing happening because I think some of the best writing is in television series.

“I’m into the latest series of House of Cards, the Americans have done it proud, they have made it their own. And Mad Men. If you persevere with The Wire there’s a point where there’s no looking back. We got rid of Sky and do Netflix. I’m into Game of Thrones but it’s not my favourite.”

A cricket fan with a husband who is not sporty, Nikki tried to play cricket but was “rubbish with bats”.

“I played netball, indoor soccer and used to dance. My mother was a ballet teacher but I didn’t do ballet because I was rebelling against her. I need another form of exercise.”

She knits and is an avid follower of political, economic and social issues.

Old-style musicals

“My mother grew up on old fashioned musicals from the 1930s, 40s and 50s, so I am familiar with High Society and Singing in the Rain. It’s in the DNA somewhere. I wish I could sing. Part of me would love to come out and perform like that.

“I sing around the house badly. I like Prince, The Jam and Boomtown Rats but have grown past that. The first Lorde album surprised me as an older person, I really liked it.

“I listen to a bit more classical in the background, usually Mozart. Baroque music is good to work to, it helps concentration and I enjoy piano concerto.”

Nikki saw Carmen on the Water in Sydney at Easter with opera buff hubby Steve. “It was outside and absolutely pissing down. We had biodegradable coats you could buy for $5. It was a great experience, I’ll never forget it. All the artistes were in raincoats too, but not the leads because their costumes were part of their character. They didn’t miss a beat.

“I’m probably more into musical theatre and if I’m in London try to see a show. Last year I was doing a bit of work in Toronto with colleague and former banking Ombudsman Deborah Battell and we saw the Broadway musical Kinky Boots – it was fantastic.

“My OE came a little later than most, in my late 20s. I had 15 months based in London and travelling round Europe, then Washington and New York. More lately, since my association with Bond Solon, I have been back to London a couple of times and across to Australia a lot doing witness training.

“I love Italy, shopping in Florence and love Rome – it’s wild and crazy, and I get a kick out of that. My first visit to the Vatican Museum was in the 1990s and I went along not really expecting much. I had never thought much about Renaissance religious art until I saw it on that scale. I was blown away by that and the Sistine Chapel. Assisi was lovely and off the beaten track.”

Bob Geldof: pin-up boy

US Democratic Senator and former law professor Elizabeth Warren is Nikki’s first choice of dinner guests. “She is one of my heroes. Former Czech president, playwright and dissident Vaclav Havel would be a thoughtful guest. My pin-up boy Bob Geldof is always entertaining, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall would add a twinkling sparkle and Oscar Wilde is always larger than life.

“I enjoy cooking, but Steve would put something on his Weber barbecue, he likes cooking with charcoal and wood. There might be some duck. I don’t hunt but I’m surrounded by everyone at work who are hunters but they won’t get me out there. I didn’t grow up in a hunting family.

“There’s a performing gene in me and I loved drama at school so in an alternative career I imagine I could be an impoverished unemployed actor.”

One of Nikki’s roles is acting for families at inquests, recently representing murder victim Christie Marceau’s family and the family of 15-year old Stephen Dudley, who died after a post-rugby practice brawl in 2013.

“Those cases remind me what law is about.

“I like the fact I get to this age and still have a steep learning curve.

“And I think I get a good balance of stuff for the head and stuff for the heart.”

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