New Zealand Law Society - Focus on ... Gisborne

Focus on ... Gisborne

Focus on ... Gisborne

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The most eastern city in the islands is remote, but it’s where lawyers look after each other.

Stephen Taylor arrived from the Bay of Plenty a green and enthusiastic lawyer without a friend or relative in Gisborne he could rely on to help him get up and running.

Nearly two years later and Mr Taylor feels very much at home in the city and is grateful for the support he’s received from the local legal community.

“It’s such a welcoming place. Tauranga was like that but because it has become so much bigger the city has largely lost that community feeling,” he says.

“But Gisborne definitely has that, there’s a real community heart and the lawyers here are a whānau and I class it as that. When you need support you’ve got people to catch you; if you’re standing in court and you get stuck somebody will be around to help you out. You get to know all the lawyers and everyone else in the legal community pretty quickly.”

Mr Taylor moved to Gisborne to work at Woodward Chrisp from Tauranga where he began his career.

When the offer came up it was an easy choice to make.

“I’d never been to Gisborne, and didn’t know anyone, but I thought, well the opportunity is here so take it. It’s very hard to get a criminal (law) job and that’s what I wanted to do it so it was a no-brainer to get some experience here.

“I see all sorts, some of the people I see are in gangs, some of them face charges for serious crimes; it’s all about learning and I’m certainly doing that. I’m certainly not the lawyer I was a month ago, never mind 18 months ago.”

Mr Taylor also has the chance to get out to the courts in Wairoa and Ruatoria.

“It’s probably the most isolated city in New Zealand. Coming from Tauranga, it’s about three and a half hours to here, and about the same to Napier/Hastings, but that’s part and parcel of living and working here.”

Helping the most vulnerable

Another young solicitor, Hiria-Te Kauru Green, is a local who studied at Wellington, with her family moving down to support her. She initially worked in Ōtaki with her iwi and hapu for three years before returning to Gisborne.

“I love working here and being back in the community, and I feel like I am giving something back. I might not be changing the world but I love helping some of the more vulnerable people in society.”

She works in family law and cases often take her up to Wairoa, which involves a near three-hour round trip.

“All of my clients are legally aided and I am happy to help them. This firm (Woodward Chrisp) never closes the door to legal aid applicants in the Family Court. You’re helping those who need it the most.”

Māori prominent in the local fraternity

Jacqueline Blake of Burnard Bull works mainly in family law, as well as estate work, conveyancing, commercial, trust and elder law.

She is also a local and affiliates with many of the local iwi. She says with Māori making up a high proportion of the regional population, it follows that there will be a good few Māori lawyers working in the city.

“A lot of people who study and then, initially, work outside the area tend to come back. At Burnard Bull we have a good ratio of Māori lawyers including Mana Taumaunu, David Walker and Darcelle Koia.

“We are lucky in having a small number of lawyers, there is a great deal of collegiality among the [Law Society] branch. The branch manages our social functions which is a way of meeting lawyers in different areas of law. I really enjoy working here, though I’ve only worked here so have nothing to compare it to.”

Mrs Blake says with such a high number of Māori living in the region, that influence reflects on a different way of doing things on several levels.

“One of the unique things that Gisborne offers at the moment is some of its more Māori-based programmes and the way that they are working with Māori people. So today, for example, I met some people from Te Hiringa Matua, a framework service providing support for mothers, pregnant women and their families dealing with drug and alcohol addictions and mental health issues using Mahi-a-Atua and Matauranga Māori. They work with their clients through stories telling how the world was created through Ranginui and Papatūānuku and the gods and then they tell stories about each of the gods and get people to relate to those stories in their own lives. So it’s a different way of working.

“And there’s other organisations here that work in a similar way. That’s something that’s very exciting. Having more of these Māori-based organisations is really going to help in our community because Māori have a different way of thinking and a different way of healing so that is of real benefit.

“Gisborne has a very rich Māori culture. For example, a kapa haka group I perform with, Te Kapa Haka o Whangara mai Tawhiti, are the current national champions. Kapa haka and Māori performance is nurtured in the local schools right from when children are in kohanga or daycare and through to the seniors.”

Kept on his toes

David Ure, who is the President of the local branch of the Law Society, was brought up in Gisborne when his father Charlie Ure moved from Nelson to play for the local football side Gisborne City. This was a time when the team was one of the best in the country and Ure senior was a regular pick at left back for the National League side for many years.

He says doing the bread and butter legal work that provincial firms tend to focus on works within his outlook toward life.

“I prefer to do a bit of everything, that I am not stuck working in only one area of law and I need to regularly upskill but it works for me. I would imagine that if I was working in a city firm working in one or two particular areas I would get quite bored with that system.”

He does mainly property law. “The Gisborne distinction is those who go to court and those who don’t, and apart from some rare appearances in court I am not in that category. We are cruelly called librarians by my criminal law operating colleagues,” he jokes.

A large chunk of his firm Grey Street Legal’s work is with rural clients, with farm succession one area that keeps the firm busy, as well as relationship property.

“It’s a small but fantastic legal community. If you come to a Gisborne Bar dinner there will be a good mix of women and Māori and Pasifika lawyers, so we do quite well in having a diverse mix of people working in the city in law.”

The carrots for the adventurous

Often, Mr Ure says, it can be difficult enticing lawyers to the region.

“It can take a while to convince people that a lifestyle in Gisborne is something to appreciate. It is easy for me, I have obviously made the decision, but I think the ability to get a wide range of work and live in a place where you can go home for lunch is something to be applauded. We have young kids and the schools are round the corner, but if they weren’t we’d have to get up early to get them there.”

He says that in the digital age there’s little to stop companies and individuals from moving outside the cities and one large firm has already made the move.

“I think there is a change, one IT company is moving base and their 38 employees to Gisborne. They say they can operate from anywhere and there’s no barriers to where they are based. House prices have gone up recently but are still very competitive compared to Auckland and many other places.”

Jacqueline Blake adds that some changes, such as the drop in the prices of flights, make it easier for people to move to Gisborne.

“And being in Gisborne you are five minutes from anything unless you live out in the country. One of our partners, Amanda Courtney, moved from Wellington up here and she talks about how wonderful it has been to move to a city where everything is close by.

“But it is defintely isolated in terms of driving here, and you have to drive through a gorge if you’re driving either from the south or the north which slows the drive down quite a bit.”

And though that can be an issue, Stephen Taylor says there’s some things that can only be gained in a city like Gisborne.

“Working here has been been fantastic – I tell people to come to the provinces. If you want experience, and you want to do the real work and get opportunities to do things that you would never get the chance to do in the big centres, the provinces provide those opportunities. I’ve been involved with cases and appeared in some of the higher courts that I wouldn’t have been able to do by this point in my career in any of the other big cities.

“I’m in the District Court every day and most of my work is legal aid; I’ve had the opportunity to work on appeals, up to the High Court and the Court of Appeal, and assisted in submissions for the Supreme Court as well.”

If the President’s from here ...

And mention of Gisborne’s law fraternity can’t pass with the election of Tiana Epati as President of the Law Society from this coming April, which David Ure says is great for both the local and the national wings.

“It’ll be good for the Council to have things seen through someone from the region’s eyes. There are some slightly different concerns and for what we have to deal with in the regions. If there is a problem with recruiting lawyers to Gisborne there may be a knock-on effect in that people might think ‘well the President is from Gisborne so it’s not like it’s a backwater with no work’. The work we do is challenging, lucrative and good quality.”

Jacqueline Blake says Tiana is a great role model, and her election will have substantial knock-on effects.

“We are all very proud of her being elected President. It’s good not only for the Gisborne law community but for the New Zealand law community. It’s quite an achievement for one small branch to have the next head of the national body.

“We also punch above our weight in terms of appointments of judges; from our own firm, David Sharp was appointed a judge a few years ago, from other firms there was also Denys Barry and Hemi Taumaunu who initiated the Rangatahi Courts. This shows the excellence in Gisborne of the legal fraternity.”

And Ms Blake also notes the surfing tradition that’s another enticement for relocating. The area has some of the best beaches and breaks in the country, and Woodward Chrisp partner Adam Simperingham told LawTalk 912 (November 2017) of his love of the sport, which is shared by other lawyers who use it to boost that work/life balance.


  1. The Gisborne region – also known as Te Tairāwhiti – stretches from the Wharerata Hills in the south to Potaka in the north, west of East Cape. As well as the city itself, it includes Hicks Bay, Te Araroa, Ruatoria, Tokomaru and Tolaga Bay, none of which have more than 1,000 people. While the Gisborne branch covers Wairoa, the district council’s reach stops just north of the town.
  2. The main iwi of Te Tairāwhiti are Ngati Porou, Rongowhakaata, Ngai Tamanuhiri, and Te Aitanga a Mahaki.
  3. Gisborne is also known as the city of rivers. The Taruheru and Waimata Rivers join to form the 1200 metre Turanganui River – the country’s shortest river.
  4. Local industry includes agriculture, horticulture – including wine – fishing, farming and forestry.
  5. Rawhiti (the east) was first inhabited by Māori who arrived in canoes after long journeys. Captain James Cook landed on Kaiti beach on 9 October 1769.
  6. The city is named after the Colonial Secretary William Gisborne, who to settle some confusion over the name generously offered his own name to the new settlement.
  7. The 2013 Census reveals that the population of the region was 43,656, a decrease of 843 people, or 1.9%, since the 2006 Census. Of this 19,683 (45%) are Māori. However, official population estimates for 2018 are 47,900 for the broader region, and 36,100 for Gisborne itself.
  8. Among notable New Zealanders from Gisborne are cartoonist Murray Ball, writer Witi Ihimaera, politician Apirana Ngata, activist Te Kooti, actor George Henare, Clarke Gayford, and several All Blacks and All Whites.
  9. There are 55 lawyers practising in the city and two in Wairoa.

Sources: Statistics New Zealand, New Zealand Law Society, and the Gisborne District Council.