Regional law firms not anticipating Government support

May 4, 2018

Regional law firms not anticipating Government support

Small towns like Te Awamutu may see a decline in legal services as law firms don't expect to benefit from the Government's regional initiatives. Photo: Jamie Ensor

Struggling provincial law firms and recruiters are being told to not anticipate any great benefit from the Government’s regional investment.

John Bowie, publisher of Lawfuel New Zealand, said provincial law firms which desperately need more workers shouldn’t expect sudden direct support from the Government.

“The Government’s regional focus will provide some stimulation, but there is little evidence of that on law firms at this point,” said Mr Bowie.

Mr Bowie said investment into traditional regional industries like forestry and agriculture may have some “trickle down” onto the communities and regional firms, but there is unlikely to be a “rapid growth burst.”

Kirsty Spears, a consultant for legal specialists McLeod Duminy, said the ability to provide legal services to the public in the regions could become limited as firms struggled to find employable workers.

She said lawyers see working for larger firms in big cities as a sign of success, meaning provincial firms often have no “young blood to create a succession plan” or retain vital legal knowledge in the regions.

New Zealand Law Society spokesperson Nick Butcher agreed and said “practising law is not all about working in the big corporate firms in the main cities, […] the opportunities in provincial areas should not be overlooked.”

He said the demand for workers also meant some firms felt pressured to offer potential employees financial incentives to move to the provinces.

One law firm in the Hawkes Bay was offering cash deposits for houses, which Mr Butcher said is a “strategy most likely driven by a high demand, yet low supply of immediate lawyers in the current market.”

A Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment spokesperson said the Ministry would not take a view on what sectors or industries could apply for the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund, as long as they met the criteria.

However, while successful applicants would boost regional productivity and not duplicate existing efforts in the provinces, MBIE didn’t respond to questions about what other efforts the Government was implementing to support legal services in small communities.

Ms Spears said there were many lifestyle advantages of living out of main centres, especially as Auckland deals with its housing crisis and transport dilemmas.

That includes “recapturing the Kiwi-lifestyle, being closer to family and more affordable living,” she said.

Regional firms she worked with believed lawyers should be key members in their local communities and help individuals who don’t usually use legal services, said Ms Spears.

Mr Butcher agreed and said they were “part of a community which in provincial areas is a very unique and rewarding experience.”

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