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New Zealand > Labour and employment > Law firm and leading lawyer rankings


Index of tables

  1. Labour and employment
  2. Leading individuals
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Next Generation Partners

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The employment practice at MinterEllisonRuddWatts is 'responsive and understands our business, but also maintains a conscious awareness of the relationship', notes one client. Gillian Service leads the practice from Auckland and earns praise for being 'responsive, super client-friendly' and for 'looking after her clients by keeping them updated on the law; she is a smart lawyer and trusted adviser, with great knowledge of industry trends'. Experienced litigator Aaron Lloyd is also recommended. Head of the Wellington employment practice Megan Richards is ’very commercial and strategic, with extremely good client skills’ and 'a technical expert with an unassuming style who delivers great results'. Special counsel Emma Warden is also recommended for advisory work and contentious matters in employment and health and safety. The firm's experience in employee relations, industrial law, health and safety, and privacy sees it act for clients such as Zespri Group, Qantas Airways and Z Energy. For Zespri, Richards and Warden handled complex litigation involving a former employee jailed in China.

For one client, Bell Gully is 'the best by a long way - it has a great team and offers pragmatic advice'. The employment practice, which has close ties with international firms including Herbert Smith Freehills and Ashurst, supports clients in large M&A transactions, as well as handling standalone employment work including Holiday Act matters. Rob Towner in Auckland leads the team and clients describe him as 'exceptional - commercial and pragmatic'. Towner, key partner Tim Clarke and senior associate Liz Coats recently acted for Lyttelton Port Company, which operates one of the country’s major ports, in litigation arising from collective bargaining with the Maritime Union and the Rail and Maritime Transport Union. Senior associate Rosemary Wooders, who joined the Auckland office from Macfarlanes LLP in London, has extensive experience in both advisory and contentious matters, including collective bargaining and restraints of trade. Wellington-based partner Rachael Brown is a leading light in the market and recently advised New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing on health and safety issues.

Buddle Findlay¬†is 'smart and pragmatic, with a deep understanding of the issues, and is very pleasant to deal with at all levels'. One client calls it 'first class in all respects and excellent value for money; the advice is strategic as well as tactical'. The firm predominantly acts for large corporate employers in complex employment, industrial relations, and health and safety matters.¬†Peter Chemis¬†leads the national practice from Wellington and is ‚Äėpractical, commercial‚Äô and 'clearly has deep knowledge'. He advised Hawke's Bay District Health Board on health and safety matters following a¬†gastroenteritis outbreak. The 'calm, smart and business-savvy'¬†Hamish Kynaston,¬†who leads the¬†Wellington litigation practice, advised New Zealand Post on changes to working patterns following a change to its business model. In Auckland, Sherridan Cook¬†is 'astute and presents in a calm, reasoned manner, which is extremely effective when dealing with emotional issues'. Star senior associate Mere King¬†is 'knowledgeable, efficient, smart and great to deal with'.¬†Christchurch-based¬†Susan Rowe¬†handled a strike action on behalf of Hurunui District Council.

Dundas Street in Wellington is 'excellent, it has acknowledged experts in this area and is exceptionally good value for its level of skill'. The firm's three partners - Susan Hornsby-Geluk, the 'tenacious' Blair Scotland and the 'fast-thinking' Ros Webby - are all praised for their 'excellent responsiveness, pragmatism and knowledge'. 'They are trusted advisers and I cannot fault their expertise, responsiveness and value for money - other counsel just does not compare', says one client. Hornsby-Geluk is 'plain-speaking, highly strategic and a highly capable problem-solver who engenders client confidence'. The firm is the largest provider of employment law advice to government agencies and has a strong presence in the health sector, having acted for the Shared Services Group that supports New Zealand's publicly funded Health Boards. For those Health Boards, the three partners handled sensitive negotiations for a multi-employer collective employment agreement with the nurses union. The 'exceptionally talented team' also includes 'very comprehensive' senior associates David Traylor and Chloe Luscombe.

Employment boutique SBM Legal in Auckland not only acts for blue-chip corporations, but also represents senior executives and specialist unions in employment matters. Its impressive roster of clients includes Foodstuffs North Island, New Zealand Rugby, Coca-Cola Amatil and McDonald's Restaurants. The firm has 'one of New Zealand’s best teams of employment lawyers', according to one client. The practice's key partners - Penny Swarbrick, Kathryn Beck and Don MacKinnon - are among the leading lights in the market, and the 'responsive and thorough' Bridget Smith also has a stellar reputation. Swarbrick has 'excellent knowledge of industrial issues and negotiations', MacKinnon is 'a very experienced employment lawyer with particular expertise in union negotiations', and Beck has 'outstanding knowledge and commercial acumen, and is highly regarded in business circles'. Senior associates Matthew McGoldrick and Tim Oldfield are also highly regarded. Beck acted for Van Den Brink Poultry in a personal grievance matter that included a counter-claim against the employee for misuse of her sick leave.

Simpson Grierson has a team of experienced advocates who are highly respected for contentious employment matters, as well as having an increasingly active health and safety and employment due diligence advisory practice. The firm is recognised for its strength in industrial relations and union-related matters, having represented numerous employers in high-profile test cases and developed case law around union rights, industrial action and collective bargaining. It also has one of the country's leading practices for investigations into sexual harassment, bullying, crisis management and other issues. Auckland-based Phillipa Muir leads the national employment practice. Muir and key partner John Rooney acted for Solid Energy in the employment aspects of its high-profile insolvency, which included the transfer of employees following the sale of assets. Shan Wilson has more than 25 years' experience and senior associate Rebecca Rendle is a rising star. Samantha Turner leads the Wellington team and advises numerous government departments, public bodies and corporates.

Employment litigation boutique Kiely Thompson Caisley has offices in Auckland and Wellington and acts for blue-chip clients including Air New Zealand, Fletcher Building, Oji Fibre Solutions and Foodstuffs North Island. The firm is 'highly recommended, extremely knowledgeable and pragmatic in its approach'. The firm is led by experienced practitioners Peter Kiely (who is 'approachable and builds trust and credibility'), Andrew Caisley, David France  and Simon Lapthorne. The firm's recent highlights include Caisley's work for Air New Zealand in a dispute with New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association arising from a collective agreement. The firm secured victory in this case in the Court of Appeal and in the Supreme Court. France acted for PRI Flight Catering in Nisha v LSG Sky Chefs New Zealand Ltd (No 1). Kiely's highlights included handling a dispute concerning the Employment Court’s powers to punish for contempt under the Employment Relations Act. Senior associate Scott Worthy is a rising star.

DLA Piper New Zealand provides 'excellent service, good response times, very strong industry knowledge and practical advice'. The firm frequently handles the employment aspects of strategic cross-border corporate transactions, as well as advising on annuities, data protection, and health and safety matters. Auckland-based practice head Laura Scampion is 'a trusted adviser' and has more than 20 years’ experience in domestic and international matters. She recently acted for Visa in its acquisition of Hogg Robinson Group, which included employment due diligence, consultancy arrangements, data protection and pensions advice. John Hannan counts software company Finzsoft, Panasonic Avionics Corporation and Rheem among his clients. For CSG Konica Minolta, he handled all employment aspects of its corporate reorganisation. Litigator Sean O’Sullivan left to join Wotton + Kearney. Senior associate Melissa Johnston is also recommended.

Hesketh Henry in Auckland provides 'a very good level of service and the final advice is always timely'. One client remarks that the firm has 'an excellent understanding of our business and industry, and keeps us up-to-date with changes to the environment - they keep our feet on the ground'. 'Simply an excellent firm to deal with', says another. The firm handles all aspects of employment advisory, compliance, negotiation and dispute resolution work for both public and private sector clients. Practice head Jim Roberts has 'detailed knowledge of employment legislation and its practical application for businesses, and he leads an excellent team'. Clients also recommend 'extremely responsive, helpful and insightful' special counsel Alison Maelzer as well as senior associates Jodi Sharman and Sam Houliston. For union client Corrections Association of New Zealand, Roberts handled a long-running dispute arising from a restructuring of job responsibilities by the Department of Corrections.

Kensington Swan¬†has a large employment law team that is best known for its work for public sector clients; it is also sought after for its knowledge of health and safety matters. 'The service has always been of the highest calibre', remarks one client. The practice is jointly led by Greg Cain¬†in Wellington and, in Auckland, newly promoted partner Charlotte Parkhill¬†and health and safety specialist Grant Nicholson, who has 'great compassion when dealing with the workers involved and provides excellent support'. For New Zealand Transport Agency, Cain handled a claim brought by union E tŇę concerning pay increases. Nicholson and senior associate Sarah-Lee Stead¬†(who are 'extremely easy to work with') acted for supermarket retail business Linfox Logistics in a prosecution by¬†WorkSafe New Zealand, which raised important issues about the interpretation of duties.¬†Michael O‚ÄôBrien¬†also plays a key role in the practice and acted for Tru-Test Limited in a case involving a former employee who set up in competition and breached obligations of fidelity and confidentiality.

Lane Neave's employment relations practice climbs the ranking this year. It operates from all four of the firms offices - Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown - and is on the All of Government panel for employment law services. Its unique workplace law offering provides clients with easy access to advice on health and safety, ACC and immigration matters, as well as general employment law. The firm counts the Tourism Industry Association and Heartland Bank among its clients. Managing partner Andrew Shaw in Christchurch has more than 25 years’ experience and is co-head of the practice along with Fiona McMillan in Auckland, who advises on human rights as well as employment law and health and safety matters. Shaw acted for beef and lamb exporter ANZCO in matters arising from the incorrect payment of rest breaks over a six-year period to more than 3,000 employees. McMillan recently advised hotel business Accor Australia and New Zealand on  bargaining with a union for a Collective Employment Agreement. Christchurch-based litigation partner Rebecca Hopkins is also recommended.

Niche employment and litigation boutique LangtonHudsonButcher, Lawyers in Auckland has a growing team of partners who are 'technically excellent and focused on achieving commercial outcomes for the client'. One clients remarks that 'it is the best employment law firm in New Zealand', while another says 'the quality of the lawyers is second to none, and you do not need to second guess their judgement'. Managing partner Stephen Langton is 'a world class employment lawyer who provides intelligent and practical advice in a timely manner'. Key partner Emma Butcher frequently advises large national and international businesses on disputes and is a market-leader in the area of bullying and harassment. Andrew Schirnack handles employment-related disputes and is 'very responsive, giving clients confidence, and he proposes creative solutions'. The firm now has five partners following the promotion of Angela Evans and the 'extremely conscientious' Ronelle Tomkinson. The firm also has a strong team of senior associates, including Tess von Dadelszen, whose service is 'exemplary'. Among the firm's clients are Abano Healthcare Group, Bank of New Zealand and NZME Publishing.

Russell McVeagh in Auckland has a small employment practice that punches above its weight, particularly in complex contentious matters. It advises employers on union-related issues, particularly those involving litigation, and handles the departure of senior executives. It also has a respected practice for health and safety matters. Auckland-based litigation partner Kylie Dunn is the key practitioner. She specialises in employment-related disputes and handles the full range of work, including collective bargaining, industrial action, professional misconduct and Holiday Act matters. Senior associate Emma Peterson in the litigation team handles employment law and health and safety matters, with a particular focus on personal grievances, confidentiality issues and restraints of trade. Dunn and Peterson acted for Sandford Limited in a dispute concerning a settlement agreement, in which a successful conclusion was reached when the Employment Court overturned a ruling by the Employment Relations Authority.

John Farrow in Dunedin is the key figure in Anderson Lloyd's employment practice, which has a solid reputation for employment and health and safety law, advising large employers, small and medium-sized enterprises and individual employees. Clients remark that Farrow 'responds in a very timely manner, is both knowledgeable and pragmatic in his advice, and is expedient in the solutions he suggests; his approach is always balanced when it comes to principles versus financial or reputational risk'. 'With him at the helm of this area of expertise I would not look to use any other firm unless absolutely necessary', remarks another, who notes that Farrow is 'at the forefront of his profession, his particular strength alongside his technical abilities being his approach to the client relationship'. Clients also praise associate Fiona McMillan in Dunedin as 'technically very thorough; she gives fulsome written opinions'.

Anthony Harper is 'an excellent firm to deal with', providing 'solid, informative commercial advice that can be understood', according to one client. Former practice head Jennifer Mills left to start her own firm, but her role has been taken by Jackie Behrnes in Christchurch, who provides 'excellent, timely advice'. Clients describe her as 'clever, pragmatic and cost-effective'. She frequently advises boards on senior executive employment issues, disciplinary processes, Holidays Act issues, internal investigations, restructurings and contractual matters. Special counsel Luisa Nickles, who joined from Corrs Chambers Westgarth in Australia, and senior associate Gwen Drewitt in Christchurch, who joined from Lane Neave, also garner praise from clients. The practice counts Ports of Auckland and Hobsonville Land Company among its key clients, and it frequently partners with US-headquartered international law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP as local counsel.

Chapman Tripp's employment practice spans all of its three offices but is led from Auckland by Marie Wisker, whom clients describe as 'incredibly knowledgeable in all matters pertaining to human resources,' noting that 'she always responds with a comprehensive opinion and guidance'. She handles a wide variety of commercial disputes, specialising in employment law and health and safety, mainly for large employers. Her work includes restraints of trade, Holiday Act claims, disciplinary processes, work place stress, restructuring, redundancy and grievances. Garth Gallaway in Christchurch specialises in insurance and health and safety-related civil litigation, acting for employers in investigations and prosecutions, both on direct instructions and through insurers. Investment funds partner Mike Woodbury in Wellington focuses on superannuation and workplace savings schemes.

EY Law Limited in Auckland acts for blue-chip clients in matters that encompass employment law and business consultancy, and frequently provides second opinion or supplementary advice on specific areas of law, including business sale and integration, independent investigations, health and safety, interaction with regulators and holiday pay compliance. The firm also handles contentious matters. Director Christie Hall has more than 15 years' experience and leads the employment, health and safety, and privacy practice. She recently handled the local aspects of the purchase of an international life insurance company on behalf of a large financial services company. This involved complex matters arising from the integration and transfer of employees, and a detailed analysis of the clients' employment agreements and policies.

Wynn Williams is known for its work in complex employment disputes, particularly in the areas of contracting, construction and road transport. Partner Amanda Douglas in Christchurch is the key practitioner and frequently advises local authorities on employment law and health and safety matters. Clients note that she has 'great understanding of employment law and is very savvy and direct'. For Gordon Handy Machinery, she handled the employment aspects of the sale of the company and its six branches in the South Island. Litigation partner Anthony Drake in Auckland, who joined from Kensington Swan, has more than 20 years' experience in all aspects of contentious and non-contentious employment work, including dismissals, discrimination, redundancy, and industrial disputes. He acted for Turuki Health Care in a dispute with an employee whose advocates breached the confidentiality and non-disparaging remarks provisions in a mediated settlement. Associate Naoimh McSparron is recommended as 'incredibly capable, direct and concise'.

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