New Zealand Law Society - The mid-life challenge of a punk pipe-loving lawyer

The mid-life challenge of a punk pipe-loving lawyer

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Dee Morgan
Dee Morgan

After running businesses for 20 years, bomber pilot’s daughter Dee Morgan took to studying law in her 40’s, at a time when lawyers didn’t rate highly in her opinion – but more on that later.

And while her earlier views ruled her out for her first lawyer job, she got a toe-hold in the game and last year launched her own law firm in Christchurch, employing four lawyers, four support staff and the likelihood of more on the way.

An immigration lawyer first and foremost, Dee says, in immigration work, a passion for people is a necessity.

Deirdre Ellen (Dee) Morgan
Palmerston North and raised in Rotorua.
Entry to law
Graduated LLB from Canterbury University in 2010. Admitted in 2011.
Principal at LawHub, Christchurch.
Speciality area

“You have to juggle Immigration’s constantly changing rules and deal with immigration officers who are inconsistent in their judgments. You are trying to reiterate the rules and how we have complied with them and how people should get their visas. I used to go home in tears, now I go home angry,” she says.

Dee worked in England for four years temping, running off licences, and working with the police as well as doing secretarial work with the Flying Squad, when it was going undercover “breaking the back of football hooligan gangs”.

Back in New Zealand she was a graphic designer, ran a business for more than 20 years and was involved with a number of companies before getting into law.

“I started doing a BCom and burst into tears with statistics. But I did a law paper as well and it caught on. Now I own LawHub – a firm I started a year ago – lock, stock and barrel.”

Affiliated to Ngā Puhi and Ngati Porou on her mother Kiri’s side, Dee’s father Bill Pentecost was from Sussex, in England, and was a Halifax bomber captain in the RAF who came to New Zealand after World War II.

“Mum was from the Far North and she was going to do her big travel around New Zealand working in hotels when she got as far as Rotorua and met my father. His mates told him don’t go near those Māori girls, they are dangerous.

“So he married one. He was a bit of a Jack the lad and Mum was smitten. He was a top dressing pilot.

“He wanted to go into Air NZ but had more flying hours than the skipper at the time so they wouldn’t take him. Bill Pentecost was well known in the Bay of Plenty as a top dressing pilot and broke in a lot of the land in that area.”

Dee’s father survived a few flying scrapes and claimed some local fame by being the first pilot to drop lollies at the annual picnic of the Whakarewarewa school.

“When I came back from England I was working for Avis in Rotorua, and hated Rotorua which was much quieter than London.”

The boy from across the road

“There was this handsome young Mt Cook Airlines captain, Don Morgan. There’s a bit of an age difference and I was brought up with his kids. He was the boy from across the road. I swore I would never marry a pilot, I was sick of them. My brother was in the air force and Mum worked for the aero club. But he was there.

“We have been married 26 years and I have no children of my own, but Don has three kids – I am Mrs Morgan the third - and they are like mine. One is in Rotorua and the other two in Australia. Don’s daughter is Thai and her children call me Ya Dee; the other grandchildren call me Ma’mon, French for mother, because my father was part French.”

“I’m in my second year in art class and loving it. I love oil painting, mainly landscapes and abstracts, but hate cleaning up, so I do finger painting.

“I sold one of my abstracts and have them up in the office. I did one with gold foiling, which represents the Southern Alps and Matariki.

“I don’t know a lot about basketball but watch it and love yelling at them.”

Her firm sponsors a Filippino team in Christchurch and started their own league last year with their own LawHub tournament.

“When I started my own firm the team bought their own uniforms because they know I look after the Phillipine community.”

This year Dee sponsors the Phillipines under-15 Mosquitos, has another team in the Phillipines Sports Association tournament and also has the only Phillipines team playing in the Canterbury Basketball Association.

“Don took me on a world tour in 2010, after I graduated from university, and we went all over. When the earthquakes hit Christchurch we were in Hamburg. We then did an 18-day cruise from Kiel (northern Germany) to New York, but could not get to Bermuda because of a cyclone which diverted and tail-whipped the ship.”

“I thought I could not do a law degree because I am dyslexic – I can’t read properly. But I did Law 101 and loved it. I’m a storyteller.

“Dyslexia made me very aware of what I could and couldn’t do. At law school they would say it would only take me 20 minutes to read something and it took me two hours. So my study was a lot longer than others. That was okay and I dealt with it.

“I would crack myself up occasionally because I would read something that was very serious but in my mind it was all twisted about and quite funny. I did a speed test that started at 150 words a minute and I did 86. But now I can speed read. And I’m a spelling freak and grammar police.

“I got school cert but missed out on UE. I kept thinking I’m a straight A student in a C Grade body. I could not understand it.

“It was not until I was in my 20s I realised I was dyslexic. Dad I and were walking down the street and looking for a restaurant. There was one called Friar Tuck, and I said to my father should we go to Triar Fuck.

“He told me to listen to what I was saying and that’s when I discovered I was dyslexic.”

Dim view of the profession

When Dee got her law degree she didn’t want to be a lawyer.

She was introduced to a lawyer who had his own firm and was interviewed for a job “but I said I didn’t want to be a lawyer because in my opinion they were lying, thieving bastards. He said there was no job for me anyway, so I thought that was it”.

“But I kept referring people to him. Then he gave me a job as a research assistant and helped me get my practising certificate. That was Paul Brown, at Lexington Legal, whose firm went into liquidation last year.”

When Dee was able to launch her own firm in 2017 she took on the lawyers and administration staff from Lexington Legal. A former church choir singer who plays the piano badly, she plays the bodhran – the Irish drum – and Don plays the Uilleann pipes, to entertain their Irish friends.

But her main music love is for Norwegian punk pipe band Corvus Corax. “They play very unusual music but when I am in the zone and typing it focuses me so sharply I can go into my mind and read a statute again to know which statute I’m talking about when I’m typing letters to Immigration. They help me focus.”

Royalty and Star Trek

“I read a lot about the Royal Family, I’m a fan of the young’uns, and am so excited about the next wedding. I am angry about Camilla. I read where the Queen said Camilla never gave Charles’ marriage to Diana a chance to work.

“I don’t have books about the Royals but have read the entire Star Trek series.

“We don’t watch much TV except for NCIS and a lot of vet programmes.”

“We’ve got two baby cats, a Burmese brother called Maximus Paynhar (Thai for trouble) and his sister called Kira Nerys, after the Star Trek character, and our grandson’s cat Daxter, who is 11-months-old and weighs 5.4kg.

“I used to have an old Isuzu Bighorn, but now business is doing well I leased a company car - a Mitsubishi ASX – a blue one.

“My favourite holiday spot is staying at the Silos in Little River, on Banks Peninsula, which are fantastic and refreshing, right on the main road. I booked in for Don’s birthday and our wedding anniversary in May.

“There are some other lawyers in the extended family. Dr Pita Sharples married my first cousin, and another cousin, Kirsten May, is a lawyer and a secretary to Government ministers.”

Paua and pavlova

“My dinner guests would be Mum and Dad. I do a really mean as paua soup. It’s my auntie’s recipe and she gave it to me. And we would have crayfish, leg of pork, and all the trimmings.”

“And my famous pavlova. In the family I used to do pavs. At my nana’s 60th and my cousin’s 21st which were combined, I made 30 pavs. It was a big shindig and I was the pavlova queen.

“I have a moment I won’t forget. I got a resident visa for a Phillipines family and they turned up at my office one day.

“I had been dealing with the husband who was working here. He came in and said Madam Attorney – that’s what they call me - I would like you to meet my wife and child.

“I thought they had been here for a little while but he said he had just got them off the aeroplane – they had been in New Zealand one hour – and I was the first person they came to meet.

“He said ‘you have changed my life, you have changed the life of my family, you have made it good for us’.

“How humbling is that? What better thing can you do but help a person have a better life?

“I didn’t want to be a lawyer, you could say I’m a reluctant lawyer. But God kicked me up the backside and said this is where you’ll stay. So there is no other career for me.”

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