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Editorial

Overview

New Zealand experienced solid growth in 2017 and early 2018, beating the average of other OECD members. The dairy industry is key to the country's economic performance, so the recent slump in global dairy prices is a cause for concern, but although the agricultural, horticultural, forestry, mining and fishing industries are still key pillars of the economy, the country continues to diversify into areas such as tourism and hi-tech.

The country is expecting a slowdown in immigration, which was a key issue in the general election in late 2017. The centre-right National Party that had been in power since 2008 was replaced by a coalition led by Labour, making Jacinda Ardern the new prime minister. Under the new regime, changes in policy are likely to affect key areas such as overseas investment rules and infrastructure development. PPPs are expected to be replaced by an alternate funding structure for major projects, which have shifted in focus away from road construction towards rail, and the Overseas Investment Office, which is responsible for regulating foreign direct investment, has tightened rules on the foreign ownership of real estate.

For law firms, there is much to work on, including issues that arise from regulatory changes the new government is formulating. The healthy economy has meant there have been relatively few insolvencies, though some large corporate collapses, notably in the insurance and construction sectors, have drawn in many firms with specialist practices. Insurance is another key source of work, with ongoing matters from the Canterbury earthquakes and the South Island's more recent Kaikoura earthquakes generating a large volume of disputes.

A key trend in the legal market going forward will be ethical standards, following allegations made about the culture and conduct of male lawyers at one of the country's largest firms.

New Zealand has a strong cadre of full-service law firms, notably Bell Gully, Buddle Findlay, Chapman Tripp, MinterEllisonRuddWatts, Russell McVeagh and Simpson Grierson, and international behemoth DLA Piper New Zealand also has a local office. Competition in key practice areas is fierce, however, as firms such as Kensington Swan, Anderson Lloyd and Anthony Harper gain key panel appointments and build their rosters of blue-chip clients.

Boutique firms also play a vital role in many practice areas, such as corporate and commercial (Harmos Horton Lusk Limited), dispute resolution (LeeSalmonLong and Gilbert Walker), insurance (Fee Langstone and Robertsons), employment (SBM Legal, Dundas Street and Kiely Thompson Caisley) and IP (AJ Park).

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