New Zealand Law Society - Skyscraper heels give soccer-mum control

Skyscraper heels give soccer-mum control

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There's hardly a major hard-nosed corporate Jennifer Mills hasn't acted for but the Japanese-speaking cellist goes weak at the knees over stiletto heels – the higher the better.

Jennifer joined Anthony Harper as a partner in February 2015 to lead the firm's new employment practice, after a 12-year partnership with Minter Ellison Rudd Watts.

Jennifer Mills
Entry to law
BA/LLB at Auckland University. Admitted in 1994. 
Partner at Anthony Harper, Auckland. 
Speciality area
Employment and retail law.
Jennifer Mills
Jennifer Mills

After working as a general litigator with Queen's Counsel Jim Farmer – "my mentor" - in the Equiticorp case in the early 1990's, she developed an affinity for employment law.

"Many of my peers went offshore to greener pastures…I spent my time building a successful practice and looking after my clients.

"I enjoy the client contact and helping corporate clients out of tricky situations, but my speciality would be restraint of trade injunctions … I tend to get the big instructions, such as collective bargaining and unlawful strikes…

Today she is a recognised leader in her specialist fields of employment litigation, industrial relations, health and safety, restructuring, Holidays Act issues, executive remuneration and executive exits, privacy, immigration and related commercial law.

Her 12-page CV reels off client names such as Air New Zealand, Progressive Enterprises, Qantas Airways, New Zealand Crane Group, Hirequip, United Industries, ACM New Zealand, Suncorp Group, Jet Connect, CB Richard Ellis, Hilton Hotel, BMW Group, Refining NZ, DHL, Department of Corrections, Ports of Auckland, Navman, Cisco, Canterbury University, New Zealand Wine Fund, Silver Fern Group, Genesis Energy – her client list just keeps going and growing.

She speaks regularly at international conferences and seminars, contributes articles and comments to the media and is often a guest commentator on television, more recently unravelling the Mondayisation of Anzac Day.

Last week she appeared on the Paul Henry morning television show discussing the intricacies of Australian fitness queen Lorna Jane Clarkson's job ad which required a "receptionist/fit model" to be a small size and fall within stipulated bust, waist, hip and height parameters.

Jennifer is listed as one of the top employment lawyers in the world in the Guide to the World's Leading Labour and Employment Lawyers and is leading labour and employment individual in the Guide to the World's Leading Women in Business Law.

Her academic achievements are staggering.

But the names that come off her tongue easiest are Saks, Valentinos, Jimmy Choo and Luisaviaroma - just some of the "good shopping spots" that indulge her obsession for designer stilettos.

Melbourne and Sydney are her favourite shopping destinations, when she's not in Tokyo or New York.

"Shoes and a good Barossa Valley red … I have so many shoes I had to buy a special shelf – which cost an arm and a leg – just to store them … I have a special suite of shelves for my shoes, I couldn't begin to count them … my shoe collection is my passion…

"They'll think I'm Mrs Marcos…"

A colleague once found her "sneaking up" Auckland's O'Connell Street in 110mm heels – her "flatties" – when she's usually in 120mms .

"The heels give me control…"

She developed a passion for Japanese in Form One at Corran school for girls and later at King's College, which included spending four months in Japan skiing and practising the language, numerous school prizes for languages and advancing her Japanese studies through university.

"It also got me hooked on travel…"

A keen cellist and pianist since she was "knee high" – "I come from a musical family and my father was an avid pianist" - her favourite composers are Mozart "by a margin" and Vivaldi.

"My five year old son wants to play the drums and my four year old daughter loves singing. They're both musical but I'm one of those mothers on a Saturday morning, coffee in hand, out at Easter Bays soccer freezing to death at 8 am, then off to ballet, frozen style…"

Jennifer took up horse riding at 30, following a riding lesson birthday present.

"What followed was two horses, one imported from Australia, both top level dressage horses…I bought a 17-acre farm at Coatesville, and lived the dressage life while having two babies and being a fulltime partner at Minter Ellison…"

She was coached by Olympic dressage rider Louisa Hill and got to elementary competition riding, "but it all got a bit much, so sold the horses and the farm … It wasn't realistic running a fulltime practice and with two small children…."

"I would get home after work, see the children, get them into bed, then go out and ride under lights at 10pm … In winter it's pretty hard … I had the horses stabled, had grooms on my property and I'd get into bed around midnight or 1 am after I'd finished with the horses … Then up at 5am putting horses out and getting off to work…"

"I still get up at 5am, but go to the gym and ride a borrowed horse for fun…

"The concentration required for dressage was good because I had no legal cases in my head…It was true time away…Running is different – I write submissions on a run…"

Her love of animals means she also provides pro bono employment law advice to the SPCA.

She is reading The Winner's Bible, Rewire Your Brain For Permanent Change, by New Zealander Dr Kerry Spackman, a grandson of the late Justice Sir Trevor Henry.

"It's about the interplay between the left and right sides of the brain and my latest philosophy is to live by its tenets…

" I forced myself to take the kids to the movie Inside Out over the school holidays and emailed clients all the way through it…

"I don't watch TV and read the news on Stuff.

"No-one has ever asked what I would do if I wasn't a lawyer… I'm almost stumped … Maybe running a multinational company, getting on a few boards … I'm looking at doing a Harvard executive course on leadership…

"I have no leanings towards being a judge, I think it's a lonely life and I like working in a collaborate team…

"I like entertaining clients, popping into the Jervois Steak House and Depot for good food and Barossa red…

"I love coffee … Mary's Café in St Mary's Road makes the best in the southern hemisphere…

"I love cooking slow cooked lamb and pulled pork…My love language is food…"

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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