New Zealand Law Society - Ten Questions: Kelly Ellis, criminal barrister

Ten Questions: Kelly Ellis, criminal barrister

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Whangarei-based barrister Kelly Ellis specialises in criminal law and does pro bono human rights work for prisoners and the transgender community. A Labour list candidate, she ran on that ticket in last year's election for the Whangarei electorate, writes for The Daily Blog and is a regular media commentator and panelist on the Paul Henry Show. 

Why did you choose law as a career?

Having somehow ended up as journalist working on a motorbike magazine in Melbourne in 1984, I wanted to return to New Zealand and wanted to "do" rather than merely report on other people's activities.

Do you still feel that way?

Yes, while I still enjoy writing, nothing compares with being part of the action.

What is the one thing that has given you most satisfaction in your career?

Working with juniors is something that, overall, has consistently provided me with the greatest satisfaction.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a lawyer?

Maintaining enthusiasm following the Bazely Report and its fall-out really hit the profession hard. Many criminal lawyers never bounced back from the humiliating and demeaning process we faced as we reapplied for our contracts. Maintaining a love of the law was a huge challenge.

What advice would you give to someone considering studying law?

Pursue it because of your passion, not the desire for a job to pay off your student loan.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing New Zealand lawyers?

For those practising criminal law, maintaining what I see as the professional obligation to mentor and assist young practitioners has become increasingly difficult. In Whangarei, the average age of the criminal bar is probably well North of 50. The economics of practice mean there are almost no new entrants to the profession. The challenge we face is trying to establish a regime where we can attract new entrants.

What do you enjoy outside of lawyering?

People laugh at me when I say that I'm a recluse, but when I'm done with my lawyering and politicking, I hide out with my wife, cats and dog. I've got an old boat that I don't fiddle with enough and I've got a couple of old BMW motorbikes. One of these gets occasional outings at the track with a young frisky rider who always puts on a great show.

What music do you listen to?

Rumours that I’m stuck in the 70s are completely untrue. Neil Young and Leonard Cohen have produced albums since then.

What are you reading at the moment?

Soil by Jamie Kornegay.

The best TV and movies you’ve seen?

Reruns of The Sopranos are still great viewing and I'm a sucker for aging Clint Eastwood movies such as The Unforgiven and Gran Torino.

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