Power list: NZ’s top corporate and civil lawyers

While New Zealand’s legal industry is small by global standards there are still the heavy hitters who excel in the courtroom or when striking a corporate deal.

A good lawyer can be worth millions to a company or client if they help secure a big deal or can provide access to justice for thousands of people in a class action.

Most of the country’s legal fraternity are based in Auckland and Wellington, the business, finance and regulatory hubs, but there are thousands elsewhere too.

According to the New Zealand Law Society, last year there were just under 15,000 lawyers who held practising certificates – the majority, slightly more than 14,000, worked in New Zealand.

The number of lawyers is also growing and while Covid-19 has constrained and delayed many deals, trades and trials the next few years appear to be some of the busiest yet.

In the second of a two part series the Herald lists the most influential figures in corporate and civil law.

Dean Alderton

Alderton has been involved in some of New Zealand’s biggest mergers and acquisition deals across primary industries, energy, healthcare, retail and technology sectors.

The Bell Gully partner advised global giant Asahi Beverages on its purchase last year of New Zealand coffee brand Allpress Espresso.

He has also advised the founders of Pioneer Medical on the sale to EBOS and Arena Living’s acquisition of the Mt Eden Gardens retirement village.

Alderton was involved in advising First State Investments on its acquisition of Vector’s gas transmission and non-Auckland gas distribution business valued at $952.5 million, and on the acquisition of the Maui gas pipeline valued at $335m.

Haydn Wong

Fellow Bell Gully partner Wong specialises in corporate and securities law with a focus on divestments, acquisitions, capital markets, investment products, and company and commercial law.

He advised Tainui Group Holdings on its purchase of a half share in the Hamilton shopping mall Centre Place North as part of a joint arrangement with Kiwi Property, which included the sale of The Base including Te Awa, Hamilton’s largest mall where Kiwi Property purchased a half stake in the 120-year ground lease over the land, for which rents are prepaid, while Tainui will retain freehold title, and on its investments in Go Bus and Waikato Milking Systems.

Wong also advised Orion Health on its $110 million takeover by Grafton Health Holding and Orion Health on its initial public offering and listing on the NZX and ASX.

Andrew Harmos

Harmos is considered one of the country’s leading public takeover lawyers and has advised several NZX listed companies.

The former Russell McVeagh partner is one of the two co-founders at his firm Harmos Horton Lusk and he is often sought out to provide specialist governance and strategic advice to boards who receive unsolicited bid proposals.

Harmos was an adviser to the board of a2 Milk, and Silver Fern Farms on the $260 million investment by Shanghai Maling.

Nathanael Starrenburg

Starrenburg, also a director at Harmos Horton Lusk, deals in public and private mergers and acquisitions, equity capital markets and company compliance and governance.

He advised the NZX and ASX listed Restaurant Brands on its response to an $884 million, 75 per cent partial cash takeover offer by Finaccess Capital and in other deals involving Pushpay Holdings.

Silvana Schenone

The corporate and commercial partner at MinterEllisonRuddWatts is known for her efforts in getting complex and “market first” deals over the line.

The Harvard-educated Schenone has practised in New York and Chile and has also written and published the book, Duties and Responsibilities of Directors and Company Secretaries in New Zealand.

She regularly talks to New Zealand’s regulatory authorities including the Financial Markets Authority, the New Zealand Stock Exchange and the Overseas Investment Office.

Lloyd Kavanagh

The MinterEllisonRuddWatts partner is considered an industry leader in investment funds and advice, fintech and financial services regulation, and an expert in corporate governance.

Kavanagh is a former member of the New Zealand Securities Commission and for his work on financial markets law reform, he was made a Fellow of the Institute of Finance Professionals New Zealand.

He has acted for several banks and also advised Milford when one of its traders was accused of market manipulation in an FMA investigation.

Kavanagh is particularly interested in the implications of climate change for directors and fund managers.

Roger Wallis

The Chapman Tripp partner is often mentioned as one of the leading lawyers in his area of market mergers and acquisitions, equity capital market transactions, business reorganisations, corporate governance and regulatory compliance.

Some of his recent work includes advising the NZX-listed Savor on the sale of the Moa Brewing Company, working with SkyCity in its response to Covid-19 and Vector’s sale of its Kapuni gas treatment plant and related assets to Todd Petroleum Mining.

John Strowger

The fellow Chapman Tripp partner has a reputation for handling complex corporate deals.

Strowger was named New Zealand Dealmaker of the Year at the 2019 Australasian Law Awards.

He advised the merino wool clothing retailer Icebreaker on its sale to US-based VF Corporation, Sumitomo on the acquisition of a substantial pine forest from Tasman Bay Forests Company for $370m and Higgins Group Holdings on the sale to NZX and ASX-listed Fletcher Building for $315m.

Others who can be added: Will Tipping and Simon Horner at Mayne Wetherell; Michael Pollard at Simpson Grierson; Martin Thomson and Martin Wiseman at DLA Piper; Ian Beaumont and Mei Fern Johnson at Russell McVeagh.

Class Action and litigation funding

Phil Newland

The founder of LPF Group in 2009, Newland has also held directorships with several companies including Les Mills Group and Noel Leeming Group.

His firm is backing a class action being brought by Dilworth School sexual abuse survivors.

He previously practised as a commercial lawyer with Russell McVeagh.

Grant Cameron

Cameron established his firm GCA Lawyers in 1986 and has since been known to take on difficult cases for clients in class actions where access to justice may be restricted.

The firm is currently involved in a class action on behalf of about 3000 claimants who allege Southern Response Earthquake Services concealed information relevant to their claim settlements.

GCA had also earlier launched a class action for former AMI policyholders against Southern Response Earthquake Services. The case claimed Southern Response applied “a deliberate strategy to minimise policyholders’ claim entitlements” in breach of the insurance policy and the law. The government settled the claims after the Court of Appeal ordered the case to proceed.

Adina Thorn

Thorn has been involved in multi-million dollar class actions at her firm Thorn and Law, with an interest in the building and construction areas and often comments about the leaky homes scandal.

Currently, Thorn and Law currently has class actions for Penrich investors after the company was liquidated last year, shareholders of Intueri Education Group Limited who suffered losses in the initial public offering in 2014, and for property owners in Conifer Grove and Takanini next to State Highway 1 who may have experienced damage or interference due to highway construction work.

Civil litigators and mediators

Maria Dew QC

Dew has become one of the go to lawyers for independent reviews when things go awry at companies and organisations.

She has led investigations into workplace culture at MediaWorks, a Labour Party member and Hockey New Zealand’s women’s team environment.

Dew was also part of the Dame Margaret Bazley independent review of law firm Russell McVeagh and appeared as counsel for a complainant.

Earlier in her career, Dew was an in-house counsel at Bank of New Zealand and worked in civil litigation in London and civil and criminal litigation in Wellington and Christchurch.

Philip Skelton QC

Skelton is one of New Zealand’s leading class action lawyers specialising in commercial litigation, shareholder disputes and employment law.

He began working in group litigation more than 20 years ago when he was a partner at Russell McVeagh and acted for a plaintiff group to successfully pursue claims against several global pharmaceutical companies involved in a multi-national vitamin price-fixing cartel.

Now at Bankside Chambers, Skelton is currently senior counsel in the CBL Corporation shareholder class action after the collapse of the $747 million insurance company in 2018. He is also acting in the Southern Response Opt Out class action as some 3000 policyholders pursue claims over alleged misleading and deceptive conduct.

Skelton assisted Justice Kit Toogood’s independent investigation into the death of a student in a hall of residence at the University of Canterbury and the government inquiry into Auckland’s fuel disruption.

Jack Hodder QC

Hodder is one of New Zealand’s top litigators in commercial, regulatory and public law cases.

He has been practising as a barrister from Shortland Chambers in Auckland and Thorndon Chambers in Wellington for the past six years.

Hodder has recently represented the James Hardie entities in the leaky homes lawsuit, NZME in its attempts to acquire rival media company Stuff, and the long-running litigation after the collapse of construction firm Mainzeal.

Tim Weston QC

Weston has built a strong reputation in law circles as both a litigator and in arbitration for commercial and trust cases.

He was also previously the Chief Justice of the Cook Islands for six years in a part-time role.

Bruce Gray QC

Gray works in civil and public law and has led trials in several cases involving intellectual property, the sales of businesses, international trade, and media law and defamation.

David Cooper

Cooper works in some of the more complex contractual disputes, takeovers, company and securities law, regulatory investigations and class actions.

‍He has a PhD in law from the University of Cambridge and spent a year lecturing at the University of Chicago law school.

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