New Zealand Law Society - Novel-writing lawyer and the woman who warned of a “dishonourable profession”

Novel-writing lawyer and the woman who warned of a “dishonourable profession”

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Neil Evans
Neil Evans

Gaze Burt consultant Neil Evans tells of a ground-breaking relative who stopped her son from studying law because she deemed it a dishonourable profession.

She was Neil’s great grandmother, English-born Kate Milligan Evans, née Edger (1857 – 1935) – after whom the Kate Edger Centre at Auckland University is named – who was the first woman in New Zealand and the British Empire to get a university degree.

“Kate Edger is very well known in terms of New Zealand history. The Kate Edger Charitable Trust does all the hiring of academic gowns for graduation. She was the founding principal of Nelson College for Girls. A very smart lady,” says Neil.

Donald Neil (Neil) Evans
North Shore, Auckland
Entry to law
Graduated LLB from Auckland University in 1978, LLMCommLaw in 1999. Admitted in 1979.
Consultant at Gaze Burt, Auckland.
Speciality area
General practitioner, elder law, relationship property.

Kate graduated from the University of New Zealand in 1877 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, specialising in mathematics and Latin, and later went on to get her Masters degree. She was the daughter of the Rev Samuel Edger, who brought his family to New Zealand in 1862 and supported Kate and her sister Lilian in their efforts to gain higher education.

“Apart from Dad, all the family was involved in the teaching profession.

“My grandmother said to me once that Kate’s son was not allowed to do law because it was a dishonourable profession. Teaching and ministers were on that side of the family.”

Kate’s view on the legal profession didn’t deter Neil, who graduated on the same day 101 years after his great grandmother did.

Neil’s father Don was a sale representative and his mother Kath worked as a legal typist for a Vulcan Lane lawyer.

His older brother Paul lives in Whanganui, his older sister Valerie is a retired teacher and his younger brother David is a corporate chief financial officer.

Married to Jan for 40 years, their eldest child Michael is a fitter and turner, daughter Amanda is a teacher and youngest son Andrew is a builder.

Neil is an active sportsman prominent in age group tag rugby and touch rugby. “I have played probably 25 tests for New Zealand in tag. I played in the New Zealand 50s and 55s teams.”

At the November 2018 Tag World Cup in Australia, New Zealand didn’t have enough players to field a 55s team, so Neil got an exemption to play for the Cook Islands 50s team (see photo below). “They are a great bunch of guys. We lost. But great fun.

“Australia is the best at tag. I have been playing since 2011 and I think the best New Zealand has done is three draws, a win and a loss.”

He played for Auckland in age group touch rugby and played a few times for the New Zealand Barbarians against Australian touch teams.

When Neil says he does “a bit of trail running,” that includes the Routeburn Challenge, the Abel Tasman track and what is known as The Goat – running around Mt Ruapehu to Ohakune.

Pacific inspiration for first novel

In the early 90s Neil was a litigation partner at Gaze Burt but wanted to do something different, saying it was perhaps an “early midlife crisis”.

He was appointed Senior State Advocate for Kiribati – and effectively assistant attorney-general while the attorney-general was away – a position he held from 1992 to 1994.

“I had never heard much about Kiribati and it was hard to get information. It was a bit of a step in the dark.”

He was in charge of prosecutions, handled all civil cases, sat on the Overseas Investment Commission, was Registrar of Companies, dealt with fishing treaties, did opinions for government departments and trained a handful of young government lawyers.

“It was a very interesting job. Odd things would crop up you would never get experience of anywhere else.

“For example, a Japanese delegation came for talks as to whether they could drop a spacecraft into Kiribati waters.

“They didn’t need to because no-one would have known if they had. But they did everything properly, paid some money and all that sort of thing.

“We had about 100 companies and when I was leaving I told the attorney-general we could strike them off because none had filed annual returns. Things were a little bit loose. That could have been my parting gift to Kiribati but I didn’t want to do that.”

Inspired by the WW2 Battle of Tarawa, which took place on and around the small island of Betio – where Neil lived during his time in Kiribati – he wrote his first novel.

The Battle of Tarawa was fought on November 20–23, 1943. Nearly 6,400 Japanese, Korean and Americans died in the fighting. It was the first American offensive in the critical central Pacific region.

Neil’s novel Dangerous Legacy – Search for the Wakazashi – is a paperback and online crime/thriller based on fictitious events around the battle. A wakazashi is a traditional Japanese sword.

“When we lived on Betio the kids would find old bullet shells, bits of grenades, downed aircraft parts – all sorts of stuff from the battle.

“I have a recently published second book called Greed, which is quite different.

Neil Evans - books
Neil Evans' books

“It’s about a Christian protagonist and his friend who is not so Christian, how they grow up together and go their various ways, but their lives continue to intersect.

Junkets and Bible missions

“I have been to a lot of Pacific countries, and Australia. I have spent time with family in Canada, been to Europe a couple of times with Jan … Spain, France, Germany, Czech Republic, and Italy.

“One day a week for 10 years I was working for a Christian organisation called Resolve - a Christian service for dispute resolution. That took me to a couple of conferences in Denver and Texas.

“I had a junket in Mauritius while I was in Kiribati, to a Commonwealth law ministers meeting. The AG said I could come along, which was good - he flew first class and I was in economy.”

Neil’s travels in Asia include visits to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Singapore, Japan and Malaysia.

Some of his travels have been on Christian missions. In 1986, when China was very much a closed country he went on a mission to take Bibles into China. “It was a risky business. It was disapproved and Bibles could be confiscated.”

“But not as risky as Chinese people being found with Bibles. In some countries it is dangerous. If you read some stories there’s a lot more martyrdom in the last 100 years than in very early years. I don’t think the world is getting any better.”

Neil in an accredited sports chaplain with Chaplaincy New Zealand.

“My parents wanted me to go to university, and I came into law by default.

“I was not good at science, so that went out the door, accounting wouldn’t fly, I couldn’t draw so architecture was not on, science that could have led to medicine was not on and I didn’t want to be a teacher. It was a process of elimination so I tried law intermediate.

“As a kid I enjoyed watching Perry Mason on TV so maybe that had something to do with it. I didn’t know what I was getting into and didn’t know anyone who was a lawyer.

“I wasn’t the smartest. I only got into law because I had done really well in Latin and Latin was an option as an ancient or modern language, and part of law intermediate, so getting an A for Latin helped get me in the door.

“I am not at all musical, don’t really listen to the radio and have never been to a concert. It’s not my scene.

“I like a mixture of reading and often have a couple of books on the go at once. I read a lot of American crime author Michael Connelly (LAPD Detective Hieronymus Bosch and defence lawyer Mickey Halle).

“I read a lot of what you might call theological books. One recently by Joshua Butler called The Skeletons in God’s Closet, deals with what the author describes as the mercy of Hell, the surprise of judgment and the hope of holy war. It’s an interesting book that puts God in a box he wasn’t really in.

“I watch sport a lot on TV. I haven’t been to the movies for a bit and prefer the old escapist stuff. You can’t help it with a grandson who is into StarWars. I have watched a lot of StarWars, Indiana Jones, too, which is pretty lightweight, Mission Impossible and the Bourne series.”

Tramping in the wilderness in the cold

“We don’t own a beach house, thinking it is better to move around and go to different places. I do a fair bit of tramping and like the wilderness.

“I try to get out once a year at least. There are too many great spots around the country to have a favourite. I love the beaches, mountains and snow.

“I rate the South Island ahead of the North. It’s way better for tramping. I like to tramp in the winter or late autumn simply because you don’t have the crowds. You often get nice weather with snow on the ground. Any time out in the snow in the mountains is great. All the great walks have different aspects of scenery and flora and fauna.

“We used to have a border collie called Jess for 15 years and I played touch with her. We have had cats and had a cockatiel which lasted about 25 years but at the moment we are petless.”

Neil Evans - Cooks
Neil Evans

Neil lives on a one-hectare lifestyle bush block with mature kauri and rimu trees not far from work on Auckland’s North Shore.

“I drive a 1996 Toyota Corolla probably worth less than $1,000. I don’t have any shame about owning such a car, I only need it to get 7km to work and back.

“I have enjoyed other cars. I’ve had Mazda RX7s and Subaru WRXs, but I think my boy racer days are over. The wife has a slightly better car, but I don’t need one.

“Dinner guests would include Kate Edger, the Rev Samuel Marsden, and an American preacher I listen to called John MacArthur. He is a very interesting guy and is strong on denouncing false teaching. The scamming kind of American evangelists don’t get very far with him. He is happy to name and shame them.

“I don’t mind cooking but I’m not great at it. I enjoy seafood, I like the way Pacific people do curried mussel chowder - that would be a good starter. Then some raw seafood, and something panfried, something basic. We don’t do flash. My wife never drinks, I don’t mind a glass of wine now and again. I’m not a non-drinker but don’t have a favourite wine.

The scorched roses case

“I did an 11-day High Court case in 1988/89 with Raynor Asher – Valentine Roses against Nylex. And there was such a good result for Valentine Roses.

“Richard Worth was on the other side. It was a David and Goliath case.

“Nylex supplied covering to Valentine Roses greenhouses and it must have been a faulty batch because it allowed a damaging amount of ultra violet light to get in. All his roses ended up being burnt.

“He was a real battler. They made it so hard from him. He battled on and we got there in the end. He got his judgment and he got his money.

“It was so good to see someone who, through no fault of his own, had to fight so hard for something that a decent person or a company that traded decently would have coughed up. It’s a case I will remember.

“What I would like to do if I wasn’t a lawyer would be a travel journalist, although it’s a bit late now. Get all the junkets and write about different places. A life on the road.

“I am quite contented with what I do.

“I would like to do the Te Araroa Trail, walk from Cape Reinga to Bluff. It would take six months and will have to wait until I retire. I would probably want to write a book about that too.”

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