New Zealand Law Society - Taking down the shingle

Taking down the shingle

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Brent Stanaway, Crown Solicitor

Brent Stanaway, the Crown Solicitor for Canterbury and Westland, is on the path to retirement.

Mr Stanaway, who turns 61 in June, will be leaving the partnership of Raymond Donnelly on 30 October after 36 years with the firm. At the same time, he will relinquish the Crown Warrant he has held for 23 years.

“I’ve certainly done my time,” says Mr Stanaway says. “There is more to life than work, and I’ve got other interests outside the law.”

It was one of those interests that led to him making the decision to retire. Last year, he and his wife spent four months on a motorcycle trip in the United States. During that time they travelled two and a half times across America. “We had a fantastic time,” he says.

“Until a year or so ago, I always thought I would continue working into my seventies. I thought I’d really struggle to not have the buzz and the camerarderie and the people around me. Being away for four months last year convinced me I could actually do without it.”

Another factor in the decision was that his wife had cancer a number of years ago. Although she has recovered “there is nothing like having a loved one with a potentially terminal illness to focus your mind on what’s important in life and the limit to one’s life.

“Either your own or a loved one’s mortality does bring into focus the need to live life to the full and enjoy life.”

Yet another factor was the effect of the Christchurch earthquakes. Mr Stanaway’s home and the firm’s office were badly damaged and later demolished following the Christchurch earthquakes.

“The last four years has required considerable effort to deal with the effects of the earthquakes on the firm’s business and practise and placed extra strain on my role,” he says. “I believe that I have got the firm back to a position of providing quality services, such that I am comfortable with leaving it to others to carry on.”

Mr Stanaway’s interests outside the law include motor cycling, cycling, windsurfing and swimming.

“Hopefully, we will find more time for all that.”

He and his wife also plan to travel more. Their children live overseas too, and they plan to spend more time with them.

They have a lifestyle block “up in the mountains” and plan to live there for four or five days a week, returning to the city for the weekends.

Although he is about to retire, and will be “disappearing for a while – a year or two” it may end up being a “relatively temporary retirement”, Mr Stanaway says.

He plans to stay on with Raymond Donnelly as a consultant and hopes to have an opportunity within the Crown system to assist on particular cases and in specific roles.

“I will be talking to several of the Crown solicitors and Crown Law in the future about short-term secondments, but at the moment I’m retiring.”

Mr Stanaway sits on the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal and will continue in that role. In fact, he will probably be more available to the Tribunal than he currently is, he says. He will also keep completing his CPD hours.

“I don’t want to give up practising entirely.

“I think that I will miss the staff here [at Raymond Donnelly] and the fantastic partnership I have had for a very long time. I will miss the current partners and the pleasure I get out of mentoring young people coming through who have gone on to the District Court and the upper reaches of the profession.”

In his time as Crown prosecutor, Mr Stanaway has seen many of the high profile and interesting cases that have been heard in Christchurch – including cases such as the “poisoned professor”, the “black widow” [Helen Milner], going right back to the Christchurch Civic Creche case and Peter Ellis.

Quite a big part of his practice has been appellate work, in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

He has also appeared twice in the Privy Council in relation to Keith Ramstead, the Christchurch heart specialist who was charged with five counts of manslaughter.

In addition to this prosecution work in both criminal and regulatory areas, Mr Stanaway has had significant involvement in commission work, such as the Royal Commissions into Cave Creek and Pike River.

“You do reach a point where you feel that you have probably seen all the high profile televised cases that you need to see and be involved in.

“You begin to wonder if there’s anything left to prove,” he says.

“I quite like the idea of retiring while I’m on the top of my game, rather than when I’m over the hill, so that people remember me in the best light.”

Daryl McLaren, Otaki Lawyer

Daryl McLaren is not as far down the path towards retirement as Mr Stanaway. He has yet to put his practice on the market, let alone set a retirement date, but he is contemplating retirement.

“I’m reaching the seventies now and I’m thinking about it often,” he says. “My practice has been a postage stamp sized one for many years. I’ve been on my own since 1978. I’ve always enjoyed being on my own. I’ve been a solo flyer all the way along.”

What Mr McLaren is finding now is that his main hobby, writing, is taking more and more of his interest and focus. In fact, he says, “my writing is more interesting for me than my practice”. And that is a “rather perilous” situation to be in, he says, “because you are always looking over your shoulder. You’ve got to watch with eternal vigilance what you might overlook”.

Mr McLaren has, however, managed to mix lawyering and writing for the last 40 years “but you can’t do it eternally”.

His writing, which he describes as “philosophical and poetic” is becoming a major focus. “My computer is full of writing now. I don’t think there’s a great readership for my writing but it’s very, very enjoyable for me.

“I am late enough in life, just touching the seventies, where I can enjoy the esoterica and give it the contemplation that it deserves. With that interest, I’ve led a life that is very interesting,” Mr McLaren says.

Ross Kerr, Levin

Ross Kerr and his partner Jeremy Cooper retired on 31 August last year, having sold their practice, Coopers Law Office, the previous March.

Over a period of about two years up until November 2013, they had advertised the business for sale on any terms that would be mutually agreed.

The November 2013 advertisement attracted a practitioner from the South Island who wanted to move north.

“He was the only response, which is interesting in itself,” Mr Kerr says.

At the time they were advertising the business for sale, they thought it would be easy. “We thought there would be a lot of city lawyers who would want to move to a provincial town.

“I understand now that there are a lot of lawyers looking for how they can get out of it, how they can get a successor.

“It’s quite hard to sell a provincial professional business, setting aside accountants,” Mr Kerr says. “There’s the risk in a small town that you won’t sell.” Fortunately, they did.

Following the sale, Kelvin Campbell came and worked at the firm as an employee while he went through the necessary steps of qualifying to practise on own account. From March to 31 August last year, Mr Kerr and Mr Cooper remained as partners of the firm.

In contrast to the idea they both had of moving into retirement via part-time involvement as consultants for a couple of years, the move to retirement came quite quickly. “We stopped with a bang on 31 August,” Mr Kerr says.

As it happened, that suited everyone. Mr Campbell was not really wanting to pay them to do consultancy work. Both Mr Kerr and Mr Cooper found that although they had envisioned working for longer, in practice the more sudden retirement suited them.

“Jeremy Cooper and myself were more than happy, really, to come to an end and walk into the sunset.”

Because the firm was bought “lock, stock and barrel” and was continuing, the transition wasn’t too difficult, Mr Kerr says. They contacted the Law Society, the firm’s landlord and the firm’s bank and went through the necessary processes. “It wasn’t very complicated at all really.”

Because they had a small provincial firm in a town of 16 to 17,000 people and in a district of around 25,000, they advertised that the firm was changing hands in the local paper – partly as an article they wrote and partly as a public notice they placed on a couple of occasions.

That, together with word of mouth, took the message to many of their clients.

Among the other matters they had to attend to was making sure indemnity insurance was still covering any issues that may arise over the few years following the sale.

In terms of the business sale, the staff were taken over and they all stayed with the new firm, now known as Cooper Campbell Law.

“I realise now that I’m not doing it, how much I’m enjoying not doing it,” Mr Kerr says.

He is finding plenty to do. He and his wife have grandchildren in the town. His daughter is studying and he and his wife are quite often looking after the children. “That’s fairly intensive right now, but it won’t always be.”

If he lived in Wellington, Mr Kerr thinks he would be looking around to see if there was a part-time, possibly semi-legal or in-house position he could undertake.

In Levin, though, he is finding plenty to do gardening, with charitable work and doing “quite a bit” of tramping.

“I am conscious that some lawyers work for 50 or 60 years. I worked for 47 years. In some ways it would have been nice to have worked for 50, but I’m enjoying retirement really.”

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