From a sleepy backwater as recently as the 1970s, Taupo’s immaculate location on the banks of its namesake lake has resulted in a phenomenal growth with tourists powering their way through the Central North Island and agricultural and conservation industries sprouting up.
Reflecting this, the legal profession of the town has seen a spike in the number of law firms.
Louise Foley has been working at Le Pine & Co for more than 18 years and practises civil, criminal and employment law.
She says the local profession has developed exponentially.
“When I first arrived, there was just Le Pine & Co and a couple of other small firms that traded under a partnership style. But now there are a couple of other larger firms, though we remain the biggest because we have grown along with the market.”
She says the rise in population, and with it numerous subdivisions, has been mirrored in the nature of law in the town.
“There has been a growth in property and commercial lawyers; I don’t think there’s been much growth in litigators; family law and the criminal bar have remained steady whereas commercial and property seems to have expanded.”
Tom Mounsey, a partner at Malcolm Mounsey Clarke, says the town’s perpetual growth, which includes a massive bypass completed in 2010, provides the firm with plenty of work.
“New developments are rolling out in the town and most developments in the last couple of years have sold out before titles have been issued, so there’s a lot of interest in the new subdivisions.
“Because Taupo and Turangi are such popular holiday destinations we have clients all over the globe – the United Kingdom, Dubai, Hong Kong, Australia – who have holiday homes here, so we have built up a portfolio of clients from all over the world who have a connection with Taupo because of their property investments. They love the winter skiing, trout fishing and the environment, and come for all the lifestyle advantages the area has,” says Mr Mounsey who specialises in property and commercial law, and trusts.
“It is very central. Rotorua with its High Court is only an hour away and Hamilton isn’t much further away for court matters. We also work at the District Court in Taumarunui and Tokoroa so we cover a large patch.”
Birds and stones
Louise Foley notes the legal profession benefits from people outside Taupo coming in to do other tasks.
“There are lots of rural areas that feed into Taupo, like Turangi and Reporoa, and there are a couple of strong accountancy and insurance firms in Taupo, so a lot of people from outside – even as far as Taumarunui and Waikato – will come into town for the day, and they might see their accountant and their lawyer at the same time, so we really benefit from strong professional businesses here.”
Ms Foley completed her final semester at the University of California School of Law in San Diego, which led to a period of travel throughout the Americas, from Bolivia to Mexico and over to Cuba before returning to New Zealand.
Her first job was in Parliament in Wellington “and although that was quite fun mingling with the MPs and the ministers, I got a feeling that I was writing reports that no one was ever going to look at again.”
Raised in Taupo, she returned there to work at Le Pine & Co, which was established in 1953.
Bonny Daniell-Smith is an associate at family law specialists Daniell Associates with her mother Judy Daniell and Judy’s husband Donald Fuller. She arrived in Taupo in 2014 via Auckland, London and Sydney.
When she returned to New Zealand, she was pregnant with her first child and an opportunity came up in the family practice.
“My partner is a Gizzy boy, and we wanted to live somewhere small with reasonable house prices, a good lifestyle, all the normal things that we are lucky enough to be able to tap into. It was a no-brainer really. My partner, who is a project manager, has lived here before so he knew what it was like here.”
Bonny was doing insurance law in Auckland and Sydney. She is now practising family law and has a lot more interaction with local practitioners than in the past – which she describes as beneficial.
Traffic jams? What traffic jams
As a mother, Louise Foley finds there are massive benefits to being out of the urban sprawl.
“I can leave home, do two drop-offs, and be at my desk in half an hour – you couldn’t even do one of those in that time in a city. If I want to go and watch my kids do, say, cross-country, I can shoot away for an hour, it’s no big deal; it’s only a 10-minute drive out to the schools.”
For Tom Mounsey, who graduated from Waikato University in 1998 and spent time travelling in the United States, Canada and Mexico, his commute is even shorter.
“It takes me three minutes to get home on a good day; even at about 5:30 there’s very little congestion, there’s only one set of traffic lights in the whole town. I went for a spot of paddle boarding at lunchtime, so you can do those kind of things even during the day,” says Tom, who moved from Rotorua nine years ago to set up the firm with his wife Kate Mounsey and Phil Clarke.
“The town is big enough for a strong infrastructure – there’s two good high schools, a vibrant business community and the town prides itself on being the ‘events capital’ of New Zealand. But we don’t have the issues that come with a bigger population like traffic. The average house price is about $450,000, under half of what Aucklanders have to pay, so it’s pretty affordable.”
Bonny Daniell-Smith describes her daily commute as “the best thing ever”.
“Daycare is right in the middle of home and work, so in the morning it takes less than a song on the radio to get there. I finish at about 4:30 in the afternoon to collect the children.”
Struggles for young lawyers
Like many provincial towns, Taupo has trouble in attracting and retaining young professionals, something Mr Mounsey says they have had to adapt to.
“People with little or no family connection with the town can struggle here, and what we’ve found is that we bring in graduates and they do two or three years and then move on, perhaps, to an overseas role.
“We appreciate that if we take on a graduate they are not going to be around forever, but those people who are originally from the area and have travelled and have had children and who now want to kick back and have a lifestyle, are moving back. It can be difficult, from a social perspective, for young graduates, but in saying that you get a grounding in a reasonably broad area of law by working here.”
He says there’s a lot of collegiality among the town’s practitioners, with most firms within a block or two of each other so “it’s easy to walk to an office a couple of minutes away to drop off some documents”. And because everyone in a small town tends to see each other in supermarkets or elsewhere, people in the profession have an added incentive to keep good relationships.
Leaving it all behind
Ms Daniell-Smith finds the change from city life to a more rural environment works for her and her family.
“Law is inherently a stressful career and although there is some stress in the work I do, it’s nothing compared to my previous jobs with the late nights and the work dread that I am sure lots of lawyers have on a Sunday.”
She says the growth in the town has created extra pressure on the local economy. But while there is a need for lawyers, she thinks the roles would suit more experienced practitioners – perhaps with families – who want to create a life in Taupo.
“For me it’s been a huge change. The previous work I did would have been unsustainable with a young family. I am 35 and for someone of my age, a place like Taupo is perfect, and we certainly haven’t looked back.”
The Taupo district, which includes Turangi and Mangakino, as well as a vast rural area around the lake, had a population of 32,907 in the 2013 Census.
Of those, 29% are Māori, compared with 14.9% for all of New Zealand.
The next most populous ethnic groups are Pacific peoples 2.7% – compared to 7.4% for NZ nationally and Asian 3.5% – compared to 11.8% nationally.
The median age is 40.6 years, higher than the national median age of 38.0 years.
The top three industries in the district are accommodation and food services with 2,250 employees, retail trade with 1,800 workers and agriculture, forestry and fishing with 1,750 employees.