New Zealand Law Society - Law started when he was six

Law started when he was six

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By Jock Anderson

Michael James (Michael) Smyth
London, England. 
Entry to law
Graduated LLB from Kingston University, London. Admitted in New Zealand 2002. 
Michael Smyth Approachable Lawyer, Auckland. 
Speciality area
Employment law, general business law, sports law.
Michael Smyth
Michael Smyth

At six Michael Smyth was impressed by all the funny men and women walking around in black capes and wigs in his father's London chambers at 3 Kings Bench Walk, Inner Temple.

Technology in the 1970s wasn't what it is today and Michael was fascinated by what he describes as the "Thunderbirds" style telephone switchboard, and amusing himself by drawing in legal notepads while playing with legal stamps.

"As a six-year-old, and in the years ahead, the highlight of the school holidays was always going to lunch with my father at some interesting place in Fleet Street," Michael says.

"I guess that was an early introduction to the profession."

Following university, Michael took up a two-year article clerkship in his father's old firm, qualified as a solicitor, was admitted and practised in London for a further four years before coming to New Zealand in 2001.

"I had a broad-based litigation practice in London, including employment, commercial, personal injury, defamation and claims against police. It was a small firm and we did most things."

An accomplished competitive rower, being one of the first people to obtain a post graduate certificate in sports law from Kings College, London focused his interest in sports law before moving to New Zealand.

 "The firm were talking to me about a potential equity partnership, but I was about to turn 30 and wanted a change. I also wasn't keen on investing money in the firm at that stage because I wasn't comfortable with their financial position.

"I was having a few wines with a Kiwi lawyer in Daly's Wine Bar [Daly's is a traditional haunt of lawyers, across the street from the Royal Courts of Justice, where Fleet Street meets the Strand] and after a few glasses decided to make a move."

Interviews with Buddle Findlay and Ellis Gould followed and with immigration details sorted, he accepted a one-year contract with Buddle Findlay in October 2001.

After an additional six months with Buddle Findlay, where he worked in litigation and employment, he had the "crazy" idea of going out on his own.

Michael runs his practice as three businesses: Approachable Lawyer, Sportscounsel and The Sports Risk Management Group.

"The last two allow me to combine my passion for law with my passion for sport."

He is a former chairman and currently club captain of the Auckland Rowing Club, which takes of much of his time outside law as effectively chief executive, coaching organiser, coach and masters level rower.

Auckland Rowing Club has between 60 and 80 members and its affiliates include Sacred Heart College, Epsom Girls Grammar, Auckland Diocesan School and Kings College, each of which has about 60 rowers.

Michael has rowed every discipline from singles to eights and prefers sweep rowing (where a rower has both hands on one oar) to sculling (an oar in each hand).

"Rowing has been a large part of my life, starting with rowing for my school and then Kingston Rowing Club, where I was club captain for three years before coming to New Zealand."

Based on the Thames between Kingston Bridge and Teddington Lock, Kingston is one of the world's oldest and most successful amateur rowing clubs.

"I competed every year at Henley and the UK national championships and did a couple of international trials but was never selected to row for Great Britain.

"Most of my fitness centres around rowing, in the early morning and at weekends.

"I have a wide taste in music and for reading I prefer business books on people such as Richard Branson and on how business people are thinking, running their business and marketing their ideas.

"Which is why I probably enjoy the business side of my practice more than the legal side…

"I enjoyed the latest Mad Max film the other night with the lads and good British TV drama such as Lewis and George Gently.

"The legal drama Silk was filmed around the Inner Temple exactly where I used to work in London."

Single and with his mother, a former legal executive who worked with his late father, still living in England with other family, he visits once a year.

While much of his leisure time is spent at Lakes Karapiro and Ruataniwha, Michael has seen a lot of New Zealand but the treats of Dunedin and Invercargill still await.

"It was something of a culture shock leaving the traditional ways of English law and adjusting to New Zealand's informality … I felt over-dressed here for a while."

"The legal family here is a lot smaller and you come up against the same people all the time.

"In London you are always dealing with different lawyers and you don't know who they are … There's not same familiarity as there is here…" 

Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for several decades. He also writes the weekly Caseload column for the New Zealand Herald. Contact Jock at

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