New Zealand Law Society - English television courtroom drama inspired teenager to follow the law

English television courtroom drama inspired teenager to follow the law

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Maria Dew
Maria Dew

There was never a second career choice for barrister Maria Dew QC, who is based at Bankside Chambers in the heart of Auckland.

She says she wanted to join the legal profession after being inspired by a true-to-life television show.

“There was a British drama called Crown Court that ran in the early 1980s. It featured a case that would last over three episodes before the trial concluded and a verdict was presented to the court by the jury. I loved it. I thought ‘that’s what I want to do’. It was certainly more real than LA Law and Boston Legal,” says Maria Dew QC.

Clearly the show has had a lasting impact because Maria has been practising law for over three decades. She’s a highly experienced litigator who specialises in employment law.

“Thirty years of practising law. It completely surprises me when I think about how long I’ve been doing this. I feel like I’ve had so many different periods in my career. It’s not a case of sitting at one desk, doing one job for 30 years,” she says.

Maria graduated from the University of Otago with an LLB in 1987 and gained a LLM from the University of Victoria in 1999. The South Island remains special to her.

“I fell in love with the south. It was a great experience for an Aucklander. Professor Mark Henaghan as one of my first lecturers. He was so passionate about the impact law has on people’s lives.  I didn’t have any real uncertainty, I knew when I was about 16 years old. My father was a commercial lawyer and while we took very different paths in law, he must have had some influence on me.”

Maria’s first job out of law school was at Young Hunter & Co, solicitors in Christchurch where she was employed as a law clerk and solicitor.

Little did she know that she was in the company of future judges and Queen’s Counsel including Supreme Court Justice, Sir William Young, Nick Davidson QC, Nigel Hampton QC, and Nicholas Till QC.

“There I was working with advocates who were all at the top of their game at the time in their different areas of law. I ended up working as a junior for Willy Young [Sir William Young] who was both a criminal and a civil lawyer. It set me off on a path of just being really passionate about the law because I worked for somebody who had an amazing grasp of a whole range of areas of law, our hearings ranged from an attempted murder trial to commercial radio station injunctions. I was very lucky to land at a firm that was so vibrant and skilled in litigation.”

The early days as a lawyer, Maria says, were a mix of criminal, civil and commercial litigation during her formative years in Christchurch and later Wellington. After the Christchurch experience, it was time for the Wellington experience with law firm Morrison Kent. Maria headed overseas to work in London in commercial litigation and as an in-house lawyer, for two years before returning to New Zealand.

“I got a lot of experience being a general litigator. It prepared me well,” she says. The past 20 years have been largely in employment law litigation.

Turning down a partnership offer

While partnership might be the goal for many lawyers, Maria Dew had other career aspirations.

“I realised that I didn’t want to be a partner in a law firm and that I always wanted to be a barrister, even though the firm I was at was fantastic and I loved working there. I realised that if I didn’t want to be a partner in a firm I really loved, then that’s it. It was a hard decision as it’s a privilege to be offered such an opportunity.”

But she says if she had accepted partnership, that would have meant sticking with it for six to 10 years, which she didn’t want to do.

When Maria returned from working overseas in the 1990s, the Employment Contracts Act had come into effect and it had stirred her attention.

“All New Zealanders had access to employment rights, not just union members. The partner I was working with at the time, Ian Gordon, was involved in that area. I thought it looked fascinating and so I started getting some experience in employment law. I ended up working in employment law in-house for the BNZ in Wellington. I did that for a couple of years but realised that I missed court work.”

So the employment law experience was coming on nicely and the next stop was to work as a barrister.

“The time was right so in mid-2000 I went out as a barrister in Auckland.  I knew I was heading in this direction and I also knew I’d end up returning to Auckland.  I’d been to the far south and had worked my way back up the country to my home city,” she says.

“Again, I had the very good fortune to land in Princes Chambers with John Haigh QC, David Jones QC, Paul Wicks [now QC] and others.”

Specialising in employment law has led to Maria Dew being involved in several related roles.

  • She is Convenor of the New Zealand Law Society Employment Law Committee;
  • A council member with the New Zealand Bar Association;
  • Deputy Chair, Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal;
  • Chair, AMINZ Complaints Committee;
  • Former member of Auckland Standards Committee No 3 with the New Zealand Law Society;
  • Member of Auckland District Law Society Inc, Employment Law Committee.

“I love the stimulation I get from the variety of work I do. I think I’d be bored without the variety.”

Maria says it’s healthy not to become narrowly focused on one area. “It’s good to bring different experiences of other areas of the law into the work you do. It helps keep a broader perspective on things.”

The new title

Being appointed QC had never really entered Maria Dew’s mind until the past few years.

“People were asking me why I wasn’t applying. I initially thought, ‘don’t be silly, that’s not for me’ but then I came to the conclusion that I’m a senior woman in employment law and I hold a range of leadership roles, so perhaps I should apply.”

Being a Queen’s Counsel is a privilege, she says.

“To be recognised by your peers and the judiciary that you’re a leader in your area of law and have the respect of the profession is a huge honour. It’s also an important marker for the public.”

There’s been many satisfying cases that Maria Dew has worked on, some of them in the courts and others that have been sensitive and confidential matters which didn’t make it to court.

“I was involved in the Dame Margaret Bazley review of Russell McVeagh, on behalf of a party. It was a huge privilege to have been involved in that work.”

There was also the independent review commissioned by Hockey New Zealand in relation to the team culture environment of the Black Sticks that she carried out and completed earlier this year.

“That too was a huge privilege, taking a deep dive into an organisation and trying to assist by providing recommendations for the future of a sport.”

Outside of work

Professional life has been, and continues to be, a busy journey for Maria, but there has to be a life outside of work. She is married to Mark Parris who is a commercial designer, designing modern work spaces.

“He sees everything in colour and 3D and as a lawyer I laugh that I only see black and white and 2D pages. It’s a very complimentary and refreshing relationship. He keeps me from getting too tangled up in the law,” she says.

They have two teenage children, 16-year-old Georgia and 14-year-old Johnnie. The family enjoy escaping the city when they can to an island hideaway.

“We’ve been very lucky to have had a family Bach at Waiheke Island since I was a child.  It is a special place for us and we spend summers and family holidays there. I also have some wonderful girlfriends that I get to go travelling, hiking or biking with. It’s so important to get away from law when I can.”  

Maria says their children don’t appear to be drifting towards studying law at this stage.

“However they certainly are good at arguing. We have healthy debates around the dinner table.”

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