A chance chat with a banking client of a coalminer’s daughter swung Michael McKay away from bean-counting and into law.
The coal-miner’s daughter was Michael’s Mum, Frances – a bank customer services representative – and the client was Principal Family Court Judge Patrick Mahoney.
“Mum told Judge Mahoney I was tossing up between accounting and law, so he had me up to his chambers and explained to me what law was about."
- Michael John (Michael) McKay
- Entry to law
- Graduated BCA and LLB (Hons) from Victoria University. Admitted in 2009.
- Senior associate at Malley and Co, Christchurch.
- Speciality area
- Commercial litigation, insurance, construction, insolvency and shareholder disputes.
“He didn’t know us really from a bar of soap but he was willing to take the time to talk to me about law. He is one of the reasons I did law.
“I was keen on debating at school. My perception at school was that law was more about listening to and understanding people and trying to help them, whether a commercial client or an individual. So the human element of the law appealed to me more than accountancy.”
Michael started off in Wellington, working briefly for Mai Chen and Peter Churchman QC (now Justice Churchman) and a big firm, before moving to Christchurch firm Malley and Co in 2012, where he was recently made senior associate.
“Insurance work drew me to Christchurch. I was shifting from a big firm where you get some great work, which was good, but the time on your feet made you like the fifth cog in a wheel.”
He doesn’t do a lot of criminal work, but is developing a speciality in fraud, including document and bank fraud, which ties into his accounting background. “Most of my work is more shareholder disputes which again ties into the accounting side of things - and construction and insurance.”
Michael’s Dad, Gerard, is from Glasgow and is a teacher in Wellington. “Each year he would bring along the deputy prime minister to talk to the kids and one year Don McKinnon came in and asked jokingly if Dad was ‘still learning the language, mate?’. Dad had been here 20 years at that stage.”
His sister Patricia is a lawyer in Wellington with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
“The family has no airs and graces, we are down to earth people - which influences my approach outside the law as well.
“My parents encouraged me to be quite grounded. We are quite a catholic family although not religiously so.”
Michael was involved with the Vibe youth health centre during his university years in Wellington, including being a trustee and also a trustee on the Wellington community law centre. “That gave me governance experience, and also allowed me to give back at the same time. It was interesting to really get to know people.”
A keen footballer, he plays three times a week – with an indoor team on Monday, socially on Wednesday and semi-seriously for Cashmere Technical on Saturday, as a defender.
“I was secretly hoping for Belgium in the World Cup, because I travelled there once and loved the place, and France.”
Gaining blisters for charity
“You need an outlet from work and ways to meet people. Earlier this year a team from work did the 100km Oxfam Walk for charity, in Whakatane, non-stop for about 31 hours. Up hills, down hills, across farms – it’s quite tiring.”
About 100 teams of four took part in the Oxfam Walk and Michael’s team – named Miles from Malley - raised more than $4,000. “It was neat, walking along and seeing people in various states of disrepair. Everyone’s equal and there’s great conversation.”
In 2015 his family went on a trip to Scotland for a couple of weeks, taking in Japan, Frankfurt, Belgium on the way and the United States on the way home.
“We were mainly in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Fife, where my auntie lives, near St Andrews. We hired a car for the first week and did about 2,000 miles in that. My Dad’s people are from Wick. We had some nice salmon in Pitlochry.
“I’ve seen quite a bit of New Zealand – mainly the North Island – because we would go away as a family at the end of year school holidays. We would go and see Mum’s father quite a bit at Huntly and camped at Rotorua’s Blue Lakes every second or third year.
“Taupo and Rotorua are the family’s favourite holiday spots.
“I haven’t seen much of the South Island yet but have done the train trips to Greymouth and Picton, been to Lake Tekapo and to Timaru for a Trade Aid conference.”
Michael doesn’t sing or play any instruments but makes up with a big collection of CDs and is a fan of 1960s and 1970s music, including The Who, The Temptations, Otis Redding and the original runaway himself, Del Shannon.
Shannon’s Runaway topped the 1961 US Billboard charts and at one point sold 80,000 copies a day in the US. “How many times I’ve played that song, I don’t know.”
“I like Cat Stevens, and went to his show in Christchurch last year. The next day I saw him walking up the street. We were waiting at a crossing and he was saying hello and chatting away.
“Walk the Line (the Johnny Cash/June Carter biographical drama starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon) was a great movie.
“I like Jamaican author Marion James’ Brief History of Seven Killings, US mystery and crime writer Jeffrey Deaver’s books and read economics books just for interest.
“I like Game of Thrones, Broadchurch and everything on Soho: Sherlock, Dr Who – you can’t go past Dr Who and the best Doctor is Scottish actor David Tennant. I have a beard now but when I don’t have a beard some people said I sort of look like him.
“I have a licence but don’t drive and don’t have a car, or a bike. I walk everywhere, or catch a bus. I don’t have any pets because I live in an apartment near Hagley Park, not far from work. So I can walk everywhere, and it’s only an hour walk to New Brighton.
“I cook for myself and Jamie Oliver’s five ingredients recipes are taking hold, especially his salmon. I wish I was as good a fisherman as my Dad. I just buy salmon from the shop.”
Pope Francis tops Michael’s favoured dinner guests, followed by John Lennon, Queen Elizabeth 1, Michelle Obama, Shakespeare and his own family.
Jamie Oliver’s salmon dish would be served, “with anything the Pope likes to drink”.
“If I wasn’t a lawyer I would probably consider accounting. Mai Chen, perhaps uncharitably, described me as the next Bill English. I have tons of time for Bill as a person, but at the time he had just led National to their lowest result.
“Another career would be politics - I am centre left, not centre right.
“I don’t really have a memorable moment - not one that’s publishable.
“I prefer not to say if I would like to be a judge but I would like to build up a reputation for being skilled in my area of law, being approachable and having integrity.
“If I can build a career like that, having integrity, building a reputation for doing a good job and being human at the same time, I will be happy, whether I am a judge or not.”
Over a long career in journalism Jock Anderson has spent many hours in courtrooms and talking to members of the legal profession. He can be contacted at email@example.com