New Zealand Law Society - Love won over partnership for community-spirited rally driver

Love won over partnership for community-spirited rally driver

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High speed car crashes qualified Cambridge lawyer and community stalwart Jocelyn Cooney for the Rally Rollover Club – and she has the scars to prove it.

After clocking up a few rolls as co-driver to husband David, mad keen rally driver Jocelyn and some mates started the club.

“In order to be part of the club you had to have sustained roof damage, which means you had to roll. I qualified several times and have the scars to prove it. Unintentional rolling it’s called,” says Jocelyn.

Jocelyn Cooney QSM
Getting the pension this month. “And I’m going to take it gladly…”
Entry to law
Graduated LLB from Auckland University in 1975. Admitted in 1975, before being capped.
Principal at Cooney Law, Cambridge.
Specialist area
Family law and relationship property.

“I was young and silly and later said to my mother, ‘why did you let me do that, it was so dangerous’. She said she couldn’t have stopped me.”

A former Cambridge Coroner for 11 years, Jocelyn received the Queen’s Service Medal (QSM), in the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to the community, including her support for, and involvement as honorary solicitor, with the Cambridge Safer Community Trust, Cambridge Autumn Festival, Waipa Community Trust, Cambridge Health and Community Trust, Parents Centre, Grey Power, Cambridge Creative Fibre, Cambridge Society of Arts, Rotary, Cambridge Community House, Riding for the Disabled and Cambridge Lyceum.

She has been a member of the New Zealand Law Society Costs Revision Committee for 20 years.

Jocelyn was a foundation trustee for three years at Hautapu School in Cambridge and has been on the board of trustees of Salisbury School for intellectually disabled girls in Nelson for eight years.

State-run Salisbury School is the only residential school for intellectually disabled girls in New Zealand. It has been under threat of closure for some years and is fighting to stay open.

“My niece has an intellectual disability and I was shoulder-tapped because they were short of parent representatives. A parent of a child with a disability is often beaten down by the system and hasn’t got time to be involved in governance.

“After the election we were told we had a reprieve so now we have to negotiate with the Education Ministry to try to get our numbers up. The ministry took our enrolment process away from us then gradually reduced the numbers and therefore reduced the funding to basically strangle us.

“If it closed the girls would be mainstreamed and there would be consequences.”

Salisbury started with a notional roll of 80, but has about nine students at the moment. “We desperately need to get those numbers up because we have got the capacity.”

“We are hoping to get a niche market for autistic girls who seem to fall through the cracks in the system. And hoping we can be open 365 days a year and also provide respite care for parents. A lot of them get funded for respite care but there is nobody to provide it. We think we can crank it up if we are given the opportunity. I’m quite excited about that prospect.”

Love found on the rally circuit

Jocelyn began her career in the Auckland firm of Vialoux and Horne, where she worked for four years before getting engaged to her future husband David, who lived in Rotorua, and now has his own insurance brokerage in Cambridge.

“The firm was looking at a partnership at that stage but I decided love was more important so I moved to Rotorua where I worked for Holland Beckett.

“David and I met when we were car rallying. I was his co-driver in a Ford Escort and a Nissan. I did that for three or four years and we covered a lot of back country that normal tourists don’t get to see.”

Legendary Timaru-based racing driver Leo Leonard bought David’s Escort when he gave up rallying.  “It’s still floating around, and now worth $150,000, so we can’t afford to buy it back. We won a national championship for our class with it.”

David was a hotel manager made redundant and the couple decided the hotel business was not the way to go with children. “We had to make a decision where we wanted to live for the rest of our lives.”

[Left: Jocelyn with driver Alan Carter in the mid-70s]

“We had a Robert Harris franchise with a shop in Hamilton when the kids were little. Then David started selling insurance and he’s an insurance broker now.

“I went to high school in Cambridge so this is my home town.

“I did a locum for Lewis Jecks and Co when I was pregnant, we had two children and I went back to work from home when the kids were five and four, with a secretary in the lounge.”

She now practices from a “user friendly” replica villa-style house which was formerly a day care centre.

Jocelyn started her own firm in 2005, after coming out of a partnership.

She was joined in partnership in 2008 by Michael Jones and Cooney Law now employs a senior solicitor, three legal executives, three legal secretaries, a trust account administrator and a receptionist.

“I was initially doing conveyancing, commercial, family … everything. I did some criminal in the very beginning but I got so put off by going to Mt Eden jail I thought ‘this is not for me’, but my daughter Emma seems to enjoy it.”

Emma is a family and criminal litigation lawyer in Wellington with McWilliam Rennie. Son Rob is a chartered accountant and has been in Toronto for three years as finance director for Intrepid Travel in America. “He wants to settle back into the New Zealand or Australia lifestyle and is looking for job at the moment.”

Jocelyn’s Mum – “92 and still about” - was a nurse who managed a rest home between Cambridge and Hamilton and her late father was an engineer with the former Ministry of Works.

The eldest of her cohorts, Jocelyn’s younger brother Rob Ronayne is a district court judge. “I went off to university, Rob followed me, then my cousin Richard.” She has another brother and a sister living in Cambridge.

“I love my garden and have two-and-a-half acres of garden on a five-acre plot. I have a glasshouse and love propagating and growing plants.

“I have a lot of topiary and love getting out there and clipping these little things into submission. They are mostly conical and little balls and I have a Japanese one which looks like balloons on branches.

“It’s called cloud pruning. I’ve got a Totara which has all these gnarly branches going off with a big cloud of Totara at the end. It looks gorgeous but requires quite a bit of maintenance.”

Non to French, oui to law  

“Law was a process of elimination. I was better at French than I was at chemistry and that’s what it boiled down to - that was the choice.

“I would have loved to have done medicine but I couldn’t because I didn’t do chemistry. Back in my day that was the way it was and there wasn’t a lot of choice.”

There weren’t many female law students when Jocelyn studied but some of her contemporaries included Murray Earl, Simon Jefferson, Wayne Mapp and Anne Duncan, now High Court Justice Hinton. “The late Robert Chambers was clerking in the Auckland High Court then and he was a great source of knowledge to me.

“I used to play the flute badly and love singing big things like hymns in the church choir. I listen to anything but don’t like heavy metal and don’t have time to play any instruments.

“My reading is mindless stuff at the end of the day and I read a lot on kindle. I like biographies and autobiographies more than anything else. I enjoyed both the Clintons’ books. Also Madeleine Albright, Dawn French, something light and breezy and no thought required, which is what I like at the end of the day.

“I’m not much on TV. The boys in the house will watch sport, which I am forced to do. I sometimes watch Netflix, cooking or home improvement shows. I love Mary Berry and fancy Paul Hollywood, too.

“I took my mother to see a film called Tully. It was a bit weird, about a nanny who turned up at a woman’s place, struggling with a newborn baby and helped her. It turned out the nanny was a part of her madness, so not very enjoyable.

“I would love to talk to President Obama over dinner, along with Jerry Seinfeld, Richard Branson and Serena Williams.

“David and I have been to most places. I’ve done most of Europe, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Alaska, and we did a Mediterranean cruise. David lived in Japan for a year in the 70s and wanted to take me back and show me his old haunts.

“Alaska in the summer is so full of life - every living thing is just going for it in the small window of opportunity it has. Everything is massive, the cabbages and flowers are just huge and magnificent to see. I would love to back there.

“We live on five acres but have no pets. We had a cat that lived to 22. A client was moving to a rest home and asked me to look after her cat until she got settled. She got settled but didn’t want the cat back.

“The kids have left home and we are not at home during the day so it doesn’t seem right. When we retire we will get a pet.

“I drive a silver 2-litre turbo VW Golf GTI and am in a very fortunate position where I can drive my car so close to my desk I can unlock it from my desk. That’s Cambridge for you.”

When part-time Cambridge Coroner David Jecks came to retirement, Waipa MP, the late Katherine O’Regan, suggested Jocelyn put in for the post.

“It was bizarre, I heard nothing then one day I opened the mail and there was my warrant, and I started the next day. I enjoyed that for 11 years, from 1996 to 2007.

“Then they changed the rules and appointed full-time instead of part-time coroners. It’s much different now, more formal. We used to sit around a boardroom table at the police station, now they are all robed and do it in district court.

“I would have considered medicine as an alternative career, but probably more into psychology.

“I did a psychology paper as part of the law degree and quite enjoyed that. It was useful because when doing family law a good part of what you do is sitting listening to people.”

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

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