LawFuel has updated its Power List for 2020 and I’ve read it with the normal bemusement.
LawFuel’s articles have always fascinated me. They talk about the New Zealand profession in an American accent. I non-ironically love the language they use, the press releases they repackage and the headlines they import from the States. It’s such a distinctive voice. Siren-like, with all the implications of that term. Essentially non-essential in ways I can only dream of imitating.
And the Power List is all that and more. I like the authority with which it speaks:
The List is once again compiled following feedback from senior members of the New Zealand legal profession and our own research into the roles and power rises and falls of a profession facing some unique challenges both from within and from outside.
Strongly rejected is the idea that, hey, this is a list of pretty clever people doing things in the law that we think are interesting and that you might find interesting too and we’ve put it in a list because that’s always a bit of fun. No, this list is Arduously Researched. It is Scrupulously Ranked. One of these people has, this year, Broken Into The Top Ten. Most lists like this are subjective, so calling it subjective is an observation, not a criticism. But the subjectiveness sparkles especially brightly when the metric veers all over the shop in order to justify the inclusion of certain people: when straight “power” won’t do, people are lauded for their “quiet power”.
EDIT: As one astute commenter noted, the 2020 list features at number 44 Andrew Stockley as the Dean of the Auckland Law School. Except the Dean of the Auckland Law School has been Professor Penelope Mathew for the last nine months (since March 2019). Arduously Researched.
But isn’t it a pain to read up on the Power List every year? Especially because there seem to be the same types every year. Fortunately, I have read several iterations now and have distilled its essence. So if you don’t feel like reading the Power List, read on for the only New Zealand lawyer Power List you will ever need (presented unranked):
The doddery old QC
Led every famous case in the 90s and soon to lead a bunch more in his 90s. And yes, it’s always a him. Quietly thinks things have gone downhill since Barrowclough gave up the Chief Justice-ship. Once juniored for Alf Hanlon. Last looked at the statute book shortly after the 1908 consolidations. No longer a member of the old boys club since he aged out.
The President of some lawyers’ association
NZLS probably, maybe ADLS. By rights it should be ALWU but you can’t have power if you’re under 30 years old. An ex officio member of the Power List. Lawyer organisations exist as sort of punching bags despite doing decent enough work. Their main function is publishing a magazine in order to feature letters to the editor complaining about what they do. A profession full of rich egomaniacs is almost impossible to regulate, but the task of the president is to do that lest the government step in.
The old legal evergreen who’s been banging around since the 70s
Perhaps they were a Cabinet Minister under Lange. Maybe they were an Ombudsman in the early 90s. They’re definitely a Distinguished Fellow somewhere. Yes, they’re still here and have power if by power you mean name recognition with your dad. They continue to publish articles in law journals that seem more about politics than law. A new project from them can still land them the second interview slot on Nine To Noon.
The head of legal in a large government regulator
Name recognition through fronting cock-ups. Trying to revitalise this key industry regulator that has fallen on hard times. What’s worse than a government bureaucracy? A government legal bureaucracy. They say a large ship takes a long time to turn. Unfortunately there is no large ship metaphor that ends positively: the Titanic, the Lusitania, the Poseidon. Wasn’t Speed 2: Cruise Control set on a boat? Constant tension headaches have given them the power to levitate Panadol tablets with their mind and if that’s not true power we don’t know what is.
The tireless self-promoter
Open any issue of LawTalk from the last five years and there will be a piece they got a junior to ghost write. Has cornered a niche area and writes on it constantly like a cringe budget Kiwi knock-off of Richard Susskind. Adored outside the legal industry and deplored within. Has sent three emails to CPD providers already this year suggesting seminars they could front. Has another book out this year. Power through indefatigability.
The ex-High Court Judge who does arbitrations now
Retired from the High Court and treating Ted Thomas as a cautionary tale. Spending their gold-plated pension on inner-city chambers. Now able to talk with people they meet on Shortland Street. They put up with 15 years of the Court of Appeal tipping them over on the facts, and will now face 15 more of the High Court tipping them over on the law. No longer able to formally hold people in contempt, but freer now to do so informally.
The civil servant you have never heard of
Oh, them? I thought it was old so-and-so who did that? Where’s he gone to then? Oh really? So who’s this then? Oh well good on them I suppose.
The large law firm managing partner
Promoted as a result of their firm casting around to find one of the few partners who wasn’t part of the bad old days. Has overseen a hasty reform program of working-late dinner allowances and salary top-ups for junior staff, funded by removing the free booze and the strip clubs on expenses. About to front an apology tour of the Law Deans to get back on the Christmas card list. Worked out quite quickly that the best answer to corporate clients asking about the firm’s commitment to eliminating mistreatment of junior staff is to say “we do the same things as you”, and then let fear of hypocrisy deter follow-up questions.
The one from Christchurch
Everyone else is from Auckland and Wellington so we cast around and found one person we could plausibly put on the list who was from Christchurch. This counts as diversity.