New Zealand Law Society - Latte partners puzzled by cattle rancher's weekend pastime

Latte partners puzzled by cattle rancher's weekend pastime

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Graham Harford
Graham Harford

From marching up Auckland's Queen Street in a Salvation Army band to pulling breach birth calves, Graham Harford knows what it's like to come from the "other side of the fence."

A founding partner ten years ago in Auckland's first boutique law firm – after quitting Minter Ellison Rudd Watts – Hastings-born Graham's youth meant living in Whanganui, Dunedin, Hamilton, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, then back to Auckland.

Graham Bramwell (Graham) Harford
Entry to law
Graduated LLB from Auckland University in 1979 and Master of Philosophy in Commercial Law (Hons) in 1992. Admitted 1979. 
Founding partner at Dawson Harford & Partners, Auckland. 
Speciality area
Corporate, technology and finance, strategic international core law and business advice.

His accountant father went into the Salvation Army ministry and the family were moved around every two or three years.

"I went to five different schools in five years ... The first few days of every new year was hard … But it helped me to adapt to new situations in life and forged me into a bit of who I am…

"I can still see my mother in Hamilton, standing there and me hiding behind her skirt - coming up five - with drunks knocking on the door asking for money and abusing my mother…

"I've come from the other side of the fence and I know what's like … I know what it's like to have hardship, I know what it's like to have no money…

"Three of us kids went to university straight from the sixth form … we had day jobs over the summer holidays and night jobs and we put ourselves through … And we did it…

"My father said all he could do was give us a good State education without paying any fees … It's what people did in those days…

"I had a great family life and upbringing … You have to pass it on…"

The son of a high Anglican London cleric, Graham's maternal grandfather came to New Zealand as a missionary to Māori – against his father's wishes.

"He was excommunicated by his father because he didn't want him being a minister to the natives here in New Zealand … Fortunately, he was reunited with his father just before his father died…"

His grandfather was a Māori Land Court interpreter and missionary in the Whanganui River - Raetihi area, and eventually all over the North Island.

"A lot of the ethos of helping others less fortunate is passed on and I have tried to carry that on through my working life, being involved in various charities for about 20 years."

One of those charitable trusts benefits the families of Anglican clergy in the Auckland diocese, giving out a little bit of money at Christmas time to help with presents. "They don't get much pay and Salvation Army officers got even less…"

He has also been involved for a long time in helping various iwi, particularly when dealing with the likes of Contact Energy and Mighty River Power – "when they have needed a bit of weight on their side of the bargaining table so they wouldn't get run over and steamrolled…"

"What I've stopped the corporates doing is updating the muskets and the blankets and giving iwi a decent crack at something…

"Thereby they've got funds for education and sporting scholarships … Changing they way their society advances, not by handouts but by hand-ups … You can see in various trust reports the number of school and sporting scholarships growing year by year … It's brilliant."

A keen sportsman, Graham's first game for the school football eleven ended with him getting a septic ingrown toenail and being out for the rest of the year.

But it didn't dampen his enthusiasm for football and swimming sports.

He has been coaching junior football for some years and this year his team of 13-year-olds won the first division Auckland football federation cup.

During winter weekends he referees a couple of school games and a club game.

"A ref has to have small ears … If you took everything to heart the spectators fired at you, you wouldn't do it … You are there for the boys…"

With a strong interest in football in New Zealand, overseas clubs and players have made appearances here.

Graham's sons recently attended four-day private coaching clinics run by English premier league club West Ham United at St Kentigern School.

In summer the family are into swimming and waterpolo, including nine games every weekend, plus early morning training for a 14-year-old and 13-year-old twins who swim at national level and represent the North Island at waterpolo.

Successful pedigree Hereford breeders for the last 12 years, Graham and wife Kristina recently sold their 75ha Karaka stud and moved the family back to the city, now living "through the gate from St Kents..."

A former specialist theatre nurse and Air New Zealand international long haul inflight service co-ordinator, Kristina is considering re-entering nursing.

"My Hereford stud was all about genetics … While I was pulling breach birth calves on the weekend, my partners here were pulling lattes in Parnell … They couldn't understand what I was doing…

"When I was born I nearly died, as did my mother, and I went to live with my auntie and uncle on their sheep station on the way to Whangamomona, near Stratford…

"I stayed there a couple of years and always went back on school holidays.

"When I was 16 my uncle couldn't afford to keep me on so I went to law school to follow my older brother…"

"He had his books at home and I was interested in torts and criminal law … I did quite a bit of criminal and family work when I started, but then couldn't stand men and women crying, so moved into commercial law and have enjoyed it ever since…

"I have to read every night to get stuff out of my mind … History and historical novels are my favourites, such as Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth and follow-ups, and Conn Iggulden's engrossing series about Genghis Khan.

"I like David Attenborough on tv, Fargo, UK soccer and Country Calendar is a must…

"I like contemporary and classical music – I have Rachmaninoff's piano concerto on when I'm reading late at night – and spent 20 years playing the cornet in the Salvation Army band up Queen Street before going on to the tuba…"

[Dawson Harford rooftop Christmas parties are legendary for their generosity and live performances by classic New Zealand bands and entertainers – driven largely by partner and muso Simon Stokes.]

"I bought a diesel Landrover Defender 110 in October – it's the last of the model … I also have a nice car at home – an Audi Q7 diesel – if I need to pick up clients from the airport…"

With two older daughters, one a lawyer in London, Graham enjoys holidays fishing and paddle boarding from his Coromandel bach, when not taking their youngsters to Fiji.

"I will stop being a lawyer when I stop enjoying it … I can't think of anything else I would do…

"I had a partner years ago who turned off the motorway at Greenlane and went home and never came back - had enough…

"Since I was 14, 15 16, I never wanted to do anything else … I'm very happy with what I am doing…Have done some great corporate work … Clients have taken me to every continent except Africa … There have been some great experiences and I have loved every minute of it…

"My clients become my friends … It is important to establish trust and confidence and the gain their confidence in your competence … Clients have stayed with me for years…

"The law is changing but the principles remain the same – getting the trust and confidence of clients … I see myself as giving strategic advice and being a part of their core commercial team … Not just writing out what the law is, but advising clients on how to make the law work for them…

"And for me, retirement is a dirty word…"

Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for most of his career in journalism. Contact Jock at

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