New Zealand Law Society - Two homes many miles apart join litigator’s two families

Two homes many miles apart join litigator’s two families

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Riki Donnelly
Riki Donnelly

Law was not originally on Invercargill Crown lawyer Riki Donnelly’s radar, until he “fell into it” after a flatmate steered him away from science.

“My original career path was something in science. I did science at school and thought for a while about going into clinical psychology.

“I had a flatmate doing law and we used to argue issues a bit, which appealed to me. I was a little bit in flux. Lots of people encouraged me once I got into law, and good friends at Victoria encouraged me to practice rather than just have a law degree.

Riki William (Riki) Donnelly (Ngati Porou)
Entry to law
Graduated LLB, BSc from Victoria University. Admitted in 2011.
Litigation partner and senior Crown counsel at Preston Russell Law, Invercargill.
Speciality area
Employment and Resource Management.

“I kind of fell into it. It wasn’t so much a calling for me as it is for others but I definitely like the profession now, although sometimes I think the science road would be a little less hassle, but I have no regrets.”

Riki’s wife Sarah, who is half Dutch, is from Invercargill. “We met as teenagers at university when I was doing first year law. I spent a lot of time down here visiting her family but I didn’t think I would end up working here.

“We did our OE after studying, travelled around, came back to New Zealand rather broke and Invercargill was as good a place as any to get on our feet. We ended up staying and I quite like it.”

After finishing at Victoria University, Riki did a paper on American constitutional law at Groningen in the Netherlands.

“It made no sense at all but was as much an excuse to go there than anything else. After I finished we stayed with her family in Renesse, in the province of Zeeland. We travelled around France, Italy, Greece, Germany and the UK for a bit. I slept on a couch for a while. And were in Ireland 10 years ago for St Patrick’s Day.”

Returning to New Zealand, Riki worked at Preston Russell Law for three years before the pull of family drew him back to Gisborne for three years. He returned to Invercargill and a partnership at Preston Russell three years ago. “Gisborne and Invercargill are my two homes.”

“My Gisborne home always calls me back. It’s where I grew up among family on my Ngati Porou side. I have a strong connection to the area and try to get up there as much as I can.”

Riki’s affiliation with the East Coast and Ngati Porou defines him as a person and a legal practitioner and has instilled in him a respect for tradition and the importance of manaakitanga.

Big families

Riki and Sarah, a teacher at a parent student unit, have three young children – son Arthur (4), daughter August (not quite two) and a boy called Magnus (one month old in February). “So I’m pretty tired.”

Other than a distant relative there are no other lawyers in his family.

“I have lots of brothers and sisters.

“My older sister Aana, is a yoga instructor, my sister Holly is a doctor (on maternity leave), brother Torin is a chef in Melbourne, sister Ayla is studying to be a teacher, brother Dylan is just about to start commerce at Victoria University, brother William has just become a professional squash player in Auckland and sister Lily is still at school. We range in age between 35 to eight.”

Riki’s mother Lianne was a dispensing optician and his father William – now retired and playing golf - was a sports announcer for Gisborne Māori radio station Turanga FM.

“We like holidays in Central Otago. Sarah’s family have a place in Queenstown and we go camping in Alexandra. That’s one of the drawcards to come back here is the easy access to those places.

“But for me it will always be up the coast from Gisborne. My whānau home … Waipiro Bay, Ruatoria, Tokomaru Bay, Tolaga Bay, the places I like to go.

“I have no musical talent of my own and can’t sing to save myself, which is disappointing because I come from a singing family. I like New Zealand music – bands such as Six60 and Black Seeds.

“I used to like typical thriller crime novels, but not of late. At the moment I am reading a history of Māori coming to New Zealand. I like history. And no, I am not a fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher and could never understand his popularity. I tried but couldn’t finish one of the books.”

In nearly five years, more than 10% of 210 lawyers so far profiled have been Jack Reacher fans.

“I like to switch off and watch easy going comedies. Game Night [a 2018 American black comedy mystery] was the last movie I liked.

“I played rugby at school, at university and a bit when I first went to Invercargill, so I watch a bit of sport on TV. I love basketball and have played social basketball and touch and used to play squash.

“I have a work car, a white Subaru Outback. I’m not a car person.

“And I have a crazy mixed breed dog. An eight-year old named Weston by my wife. Part Lab, part Pointer and part Border Collie. He eats like a Lab, runs like a Pointer and is crazy like a Border Collie.”

Grampa and Obama

“I have always enjoyed Barack Obama’s rhetoric so he would be a dinner guest, along with Roger Federer and my grandfather Lloyd Summerfield, who died when I was 12. I didn’t feel I got to know my grandfather. He was a maths teacher.

“We would have pasta. My wife’s family are excellent cooks, but not me. I am fortunate to be an excellent eater and I like a good craft beer.

“I like mixing it up a bit but anything from Garage Project is good. And Panhead. They are my two main ones. There’s so much craft beer variety coming out, I like grabbing a couple at random and trying them.”

Career moments Riki will remember include being taken to the Court of Appeal by a good friend and getting to argue a criminal case with her. “We got a great result, followed by a celebratory lunch.

“The other involved a Māori family who were dealing with the passing of a loved one and there was a dispute about what to do with the body and headstone.

“Being involved with that and managing without getting too entrenched or going to court or having to have intervention – just getting that resolved and seeing the relief of the family that their loved one was going to be buried in the way they believed he wanted to be – will always stick with me. That can be difficult at times.”

His favourite paper at law school was advanced public law and his liking for the interaction between public and private rights drew Riki to employment and resource management law. “Anything that has that mix of public and private I enjoy.”

“If I wasn’t a lawyer I would have liked to be a history teacher, teaching all sorts of history.”

Riki’s community involvement includes being on the board of the Southland community law centre and an executive member of Te Hunga Roia Māori o Aotearoa (Māori Law Society).

He is currently honorary solicitor for the Southland stock-car drivers’ association but doesn’t drive a stock-car and says he is not a very good driver.

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