New Zealand Law Society - Legal Exec experience good grounding for lawyering

Legal Exec experience good grounding for lawyering

Legal Exec experience good grounding for lawyering
Maree Adams

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By Jock Anderson 

Maree Dawn (Maree) Adam
Entry to law
Graduated BA from Victoria University and LLB from Otago University. Registered legal executive. Admitted 2014. 
Solicitor with GTodd Law, Frankton. 
Speciality area
Property, commercial and estates law.

Reality TV cooking competitions may not be to everyone’s taste but long-time legal executive turned lawyer Maree Adams says they leave legal dramas for dead.

“I adore competitive cooking shows … Master Chef, MKR (My Kitchen Rules), all of them … they are easy TV … that and Stephen Fry’s QI,” Maree says.

After nearly 15 years working as a qualified legal executive, Maree was admitted as a barrister and solicitor in Dunedin in April 2014 and earlier this year joined Queenstown law firm GTodd Law’s Frankton office as a solicitor in the property, commercial and estates team.

Before moving to Frankton she worked for Webb Farry in Dunedin for several years and before that – after a stint growing cherry trees and running a house building franchise - at Dean & Associates in Oamaru.

With a BA, Maree was initially interested in being a teacher, but after going overseas she had children “and started on the motherhood track”.

She heard about para-legal work while in the United States and was keen to pursue that after returning to New Zealand, where she “stumbled” across legal executive training. “They do very much the same thing with different terminology. People think a legal executive is a legal secretary, which it is not. They think it’s the same as “home executives” being housewives…”

“A lot of women fulfil the role of legal executive and it is a much more valuable job than the title suggests.”

Maree did her five-year study by correspondence through the Open Polytechnic, starting the year her son was born. He’s now doing an apprenticeship in Christchurch.

She was living in Oamaru when she qualified, enjoyed working with Dean & Associates, wanted to do more and began travelling to Dunedin twice a week to pursue a law degree.

“At that point the children were bus kids at primary and intermediate school, which was a real juggling act…”

It was also working in her own business that re-ignited Maree’s interest in law and her commitment to getting her degree as an adult student.

After two years travelling from Oamaru she moved to Dunedin, took a year off work and threw herself into more than a fulltime course at university, fitting in as many papers as possible.

“By now my daughter was doing a BCom at Otago University and terrified she might meet her Mum on campus … But we had one semester at Otago together, which we enjoyed.”

A job with Webb Farry – “they were very good and supportive” - meant Maree was able to work and apply what she was learning at university to the job.

“It was a great benefit to be working in a law firm and doing a law degree – it balanced the theory with the practical…

“I found it easier being an adult student with life experience. I take my hat off to students starting their degree straight from school and grappling with adult concepts.

“Another older legal exec was studying at the same time and we helped each other out.

“Initially I found university hard because I was there for a specific purpose – to get a law degree. I roared down the road from Oamaru, go to classes, keep an eye on the phone, come home, go to work.

“I didn’t really know anyone because I wasn’t there any other time.”

After six years of study, a lot of hard work, juggling family and a few ups and downs, Maree was admitted just over a year ago.

When a job came up at GTodd Law, she seized the chance to effectively begin a new life in the Queenstown area.

With clients also from Wanaka, Christchurch and Southland plus a number from overseas who have interests in and around Queenstown, the firm offers her broad base of work.

“I’d like to get into employment law and also do a bit of family law.”

For someone who hasn’t had much time outside studying for law, Maree keeps herself involved in what her children are doing.

“One of the funny things after I finished the law degree was being able to return to reading books voluntarily, but it took me two years to actually go to the library and take a book out and read it…

“I’m back into reading thrillers and like US crime writer, forensic anthropologist and academic Kathy Reichs, creator of the Bones television series.

“I joined the gym and am keen to see if I can build up to ten kilometres at the end of the year for the Queenstown marathon…

“I’ve set a few indulgent goals, which for me for me for so many years weren’t possible.

“I’m interested in being involved in something of a philanthropic nature, I haven’t decided what it is yet, but I’m thinking about it and want to make sure it’s the right choice…

“There is a place, as there is within law, for pro bono work, so there is an interest there … I’m not quite sure yet where to take it…

“That might be the next process…” 

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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