New Zealand Law Society - Rock and roll drummer’s curious career backup

Rock and roll drummer’s curious career backup

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Philip Maw
Philip Maw

He may have been recently appointed national managing partner of Christchurch-based firm Wynn Williams, but environmental law specialist Philip Maw would like to mow lawns every day.

“That’s what I would be doing as an alternative career. I would be managing a lawn-mowing business.

“It’s been a life-long ambition to mow lawns every day, and Christchurch is an easy place to do lawns so that’s my backup as I age,” says Philip.

Philip Andrew Charles (Philip) Maw
Entry to law
Graduated LLB, BSc from Canterbury University in 2003. Admitted in 2005.
National managing partner at Wynn Williams, Christchurch.
Speciality area
Resource management and environmental law.

But lawn-mowing may have to wait because being national managing partner for a Christchurch-based firm with offices also in Auckland involves Philip spending a lot more time in the Auckland office.

“Essentially I spend half of my day dealing with firm management and half as a practising RMA lawyer. In reality both of those jobs could be full-time jobs. Juggling the two is a challenge.

“On the managing partner front I am managing and implementing firm strategy, and managing the performance of 22 partners.

“It can be a bit like herding cats at times. When you have 22 A-type personalities who all think they are right, life can get interesting. Being diplomatic and a peacekeeper goes with the role.”

Philip’s first calling when he went to Canterbury University was to be a scientist.

“I always wanted to be a scientist and I went to university to study science. I had some spare time in my first year so thought I would take a law paper because it looked a little bit interesting.

“By the end of year one I decided I quite liked the law but still wanted to be a scientist, so I didn’t make the difficult decision then and went to do both a law degree and a science degree.

“I continued on with both and thought I would make the decision later in life as to what I would be.

“When I reached the end of five years of study and realised I could find an area of law where I could also use my science on a fairly regular basis. So I headed down the legal track.

“It all came together when I realised environmental law was an area which could tick both boxes.

“My interest in environmental law developed in the last two years of university as I started to see how the world worked beyond uni. I started to get an appreciation for the utility of science in forming environmental law in particular.

“So I took up residence at Wynn Williams in February 2004, and here I am.”

Piano teaching and planning

Philip’s Mum, a retired school teacher and piano teacher, and Dad, formerly a soil conservation planner more latterly involved in bio-security planning, live on the outskirts of Christchurch.

His older brother Jeffrey is a captain for Cathay Pacific and his younger sister Adrianne is a psychiatric nurse.

Philip is married to Tania, a tax partner in another law firm, and the couple have two children – four-year-old Zara and 18-month-old Liam.

“It is a challenge to juggle home and work. We are fortunate in that we have a live-in nanny who helps us with child care, which has made a big difference.”

Previously a Canterbury Country age-group representative cricketer, he opened both batting and bowling, recording a top run score of 300 and a number of five-wicket innings.

“These days I’m on my mountain bike and my favourite place is the Christchurch adventure park, although my ribs will tell you otherwise.”

Philip provides advice to the Canterbury community law centre’s specialist RMA service and for several years served on the Canterbury youth development programme trust, set up to benefit vulnerable children who were struggling with behavioural issues.

Having seen much of the Pacific, including Fiji and Hawaii, Philip and Tania took off in 2010 on a four-month trip through eastern Europe to see as many countries as they could, including Russia.

Well-travelled in both the South and North Islands, Philip’s favourite spots are the Abel Tasman National Park, Fiordland and Arrowtown.

“I was attracted to law because I like arguing and I liked the challenge. Law was more challenging than science. I had to work harder at law and it challenged me more. In terms of a career path it started to fall into place at that point I chose law.”

With a music-teacher mother and classically-trained as a pianist during his childhood, he did some piano teaching on his way through university “which was not a bad side job to have”.

“I like Beethoven and don’t mind a bit of Brahms.

“The modern music part of me sits with my drumming background. Yes, it’s true, I was a drummer in a rock and roll band.”

That band was called Kajed and they performed during the late 1980s. In the summer of 1988 the band joined other Christchurch bands for the annual SummerTimes Festival, and opened for Che Fu at a big outdoor concert on Waitangi Day. 

"It was a high school band that started out at Rockquest, and then continued for the first couple of years at Canterbury University."

Kajed recorded an EP, which was never publicly released but Philip says one of the songs got airtime on a rock radio station. 

Not in a band at the moment, Philip previously played in an ad hoc jazz band made up of himself on the drums, Environment Court Judge Jeff Smith – “a very gifted jazz musician” – on the piano and lawyer Ken Lord on bass.

“We got together reasonably frequently until Judge Smith moved back to Auckland. We played at a wedding, a resource management conference, and a session at the hot pools in Hanmer Springs. All good fun.”

Brain surgery

Having read his share of John Grisham “but not for a while”, Philip doesn’t get a chance to read much outside work, except on holiday when it’s “whatever is put in front of me”.

“I recently read a fascinating book called Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery, by British brain surgeon Henry Marsh - 17 chapters each dealing with a particular brain tumour.

“My only TV time is watching Formula One racing and test cricket.”

Phillip has never raced a car but drives a “pretty quick” 3-litre biturbo Mercedes Benz AMG C43.

“I like cats but unfortunately our cat had to be put down this year, and hasn’t yet been replaced.”

“Tennis great Roger Federer would join English singer/songwriter Lily Allen and comedian Jimmy Carr for a dinner of beef fillet steak, asparagus, new potatoes, lots of red wine and a splash of gin.”

Working at the forefront of environmental law, and representing Environment Canterbury, Philip says his memorable moment was seeing the Canterbury land and water regional plan being made operative.

“It took the best part of four years and at a national level is a leading planning document dealing with fresh water management. It became operative in 2016 and won a planning award from the New Zealand Planning Institute.

“I was lead counsel all the way through that four-year process and in terms of something that is leaving a mark on the environment it shifted the way in which particularly farming activities are regulated and managed for the better. It is a significant piece of work I have seen come to fruition.

“As far as a legal ambition is concerned I have a pretty open mind about what happens next. I am starting to turn my mind a little to that, but it’s a wee way away. This isn’t a forever job for me and I have an open mind to what’s next.”

Footnote: It’s taken more than four years and nearly 200 interviews to find a lawyer who admits being a drummer in a rock and roll band. Fifteen or more subjects have tinkered with guitars but as everyone knows, it’s the drummer who holds it together. Just ask Charlie Watts.

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