New Zealand Law Society - Jessica Aroha Greig, 1992 - 2018

Jessica Aroha Greig, 1992 - 2018

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Jess Greig
Jess Greig

Hastings lawyer Jessica Greig died on 1 August and her potential will be forever unknown, however the legal community say she was a rising star who possessed skills and ability beyond her years.

Jessica had only recently turned 26 and her admission to the High Court was barely a year old. Rarely in life are we able to foresee what lies ahead and for Jessica, her life and career was tragically cut short when the car she was travelling in collided with a freight train at a Woodville crossing near Palmerston North.

She was with her partner, Luke Watene and his son Reign when the accident happened. The crash also killed the toddler. Mr Watene was the sole survivor.

Napier barrister Maria Hamilton is also the President of the Hawke’s Bay branch of the Law Society.

She knew Jessica or ‘Jess’ as she was perhaps better known, both professionally and on a personal level.

“Jess was somebody who made an impact. A strong personality and really easy to engage with. I know of someone for example who was a client of hers and that person told me that after spending an hour with Jess, she felt as if she had known her all of her life,” she says.

Jess had been working as a lawyer at the all-women law firm, Bay Legal, since June. The firm’s biography on their website says she attended Otago University and graduated with a double degree in Law and Politics. She was admitted last year in a Te Reo Māori ceremony in the Napier High Court.

It also says Jess was fiercely competitive and played indoor netball twice a week and had also started playing golf, which she also enjoyed.

“Jess was no pushover. She would always tell you what she thought. She was self-assured, in a polite and respectful way but you were never left with any doubt about what her views were on matters and that would apply regardless of your level of experience, whether you were a peer of hers, or a senior practitioner. You’d be treated the same by Jess,” she says.

Prior to starting at Bay Legal, Jess Greig had worked at Cathedral Law, where she was involved in family and criminal law work, as a law clerk.

Maria Hamilton says Jess had so much potential as a lawyer, and losing her so young is devastating.

“She was one to watch. I’d said that to other colleagues that it will be interesting to see Jess’s journey. Who knows how it would have turned out? We’ll never know, but there was a lot more of that story to go. She enjoyed legal issues, the pure law of legal practice and the research. She had good emotional intelligence too and related well to clients,” she says.

Her law firm employers have also described the personal touch that Jess brought to the practice. 

"From the moment Jess came in to our office she brought her happy, can do attitude to everything she touched.     In fact she couldn’t even wait out her few weeks break  before starting with us - coming in to the office instead to look over recent files so she could get a feel for how we worked,"  say Kirstin Monk and Donna Carroll, Directors at Bay Legal.

"As those who know Jess well it will come as no surprise to learn that she was a great contributor to all conversations within our office and immediately fitted in like she had always been here. She had already started coming up with ideas for our work Xmas function.

"Jess immediately impressed us as someone who was not accustomed to sitting still.  She threw herself in to her work with her sending an all out email only a week ago to most of the senior lawyers advising she had capacity to take on more work. We quickly learnt that Jess would give anything a go and was good at 10 pin bowling, darts, pool and most sports she turned her hand to. She joined the gym with some of us from the office and quickly showed that she never did things by halves in that area either.

"Jess also had a huge love for her partner Luke and Luke’s son Reign and was totally committed to being the best 'Reign’s Jessie'  (as he would sometimes call her) that she could be.   Jess had a maturity beyond her years and in a family court practice such as ours, she modelled the dream outcome for all separated families by being clear about the importance of all the adults in Reign’s life.   We are devastated for Luke’s loss.  

"Jess had a close relationship with her family and a strong connection with her culture. We are told that her swearing in conducted in Te Reo was especially moving."

Jessica Greig’s funeral was held last Sunday. As she was of Māori descent, a Tangi was held and she had been lying at Tongoio Marae for people to pay their respects, before the final farewell at her funeral.

“Many people from the law profession visited her at the marae. It was standing room only at her funeral which was held at the Napier Sailing Club. It was shoulder to shoulder and Family Court Judge Peter Callinicos was there, and so was retired Judge Tony Lendrum. The law community is close knit, so it was unsurprising for us that so many came to her funeral. But she also made a huge impact on people. There are some people who could be in the community for 5 years and yet you don’t know their name. Jess wasn’t one of those people.

Family Court Judge Peter Callinicos knew Jess through her work in the courtroom and was impressed from the beginning.

“From the day she started in court, she displayed an acumen and ability way beyond what you’d expect from a new graduate. Sometimes you’ll hear of a new lawyer in town who is supposedly a new graduate but then you find out they’ve been practising 2 or 3 years. But Jess had a mana about her and a professionalism which was more like someone with 5 or more years’ experience. She just exuded it. It wasn’t brash, it wasn’t overconfident. It was just an assuredness which showed she had innate ability. She was always incredibly punctual with deadlines – and I can’t say all lawyers or judges are like that. She had a really neat manner – a dignified and beautifully pitched way of presenting,” he says.

Judge Callinicos says a lot of lawyers and judges of all levels of experience often don’t do enough preparation work, but Jess, in the short time she did courtroom work, always made the deadlines for filing information.

“You could always count on her to have done it. I made comments to other lawyers about Jess well before this tragedy occurred. Court staff, who lawyers can sometimes be tough on, loved Jess Greig. That was the feedback I received. She did some criminal work too but mostly it was the Family Court and they thought the world of her,” he says.

Judge Callinicos says her previous manager at Cathedral Law, Phillip Ross, had also told him how much he valued Jess and her work as a law clerk.

It’s clear, Jess Greig will not be forgotten and that in her short life she has left an immense impact on the people she worked with, and the many others who knew her.

Generally Specials Sittings are usually reserved for lawyers or judges that have been around for 50 years.

But Judge Callinicos says an event is being organised to honour Jess Greig.

“Several Judges including me take the view that this kid has been robbed of what I’m certain would have been a massive career. We want to pay homage to that. There’s many layers of tragedy to her demise. There’s the event, there’s the tragedy to her family, her partner, to her Hapu, to the law but there is also massive tragedy to Māoridom here. She was so entrenched in her Tikanga and I can predict that she would have gone to great lengths for the betterment of her people,” Judge Callinicos says.

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