Contribution the key, as local leader makes her mark

by Ben Abbott30 Jan 2015
Leading lawyer Mai Chen is adding to New Zealand’s wealth of legal knowledge with the publication of the second edition of her Public Law Toolbox and her selection to attend the Duke of Edinburgh’s Commonwealth Study Conference this year with 100 other exceptional commonwealth leaders.
Published just days before Christmas, the new Public Law Toolbox revises almost 50% of the first edition, providing a definitive guide to the practice of public law based on 20 years of dedicated experience.
With law firm Chen Palmer having pioneered the practice of public law in the country over a period of two decades, founding partner Chen said the second edition marked the culmination of her career to date.
“It really feels like a summary of how we have developed and evolved the practice of public law in New Zealand,” she said.
Some of the big revisions are a result of rapid developments in the use of information and technology, as well as major law reform. Chen said the public now had more access to official information than ever, and a greater ability to keep officials accountable, as well as to lobby government directly – often by post or tweet.
The information explosion has also raised challenges in the area of privacy and defamation. With government now trying to get 70% of its business online, Chen said there were ever-greater risks of mishandling information.
Chapters on government inquiries and security and intelligence also received complete rewrites in the new edition of Public Law Toolbox.
Chen said of the new edition, “It’s been a labor of love. I don’t think the royalties from the book will even cover the cost of the paper that various revision drafts were printed on.
“But we have pioneered practice in that area of law and I wanted to record that so that others could have the benefit of the expertise and experience I gained,” she said.
Chen also hopes to contribute at this year’s CSC Leaders forum, a global leadership programme for 100 exceptional senior leaders from government, business and NGOs across the Commonwealth.
The only New Zealander selected after being recommended by the British High Commissioner to NZ, Chen said the Duke of Edinburgh’s Commonwealth Study Conference would bring together top leaders from business, government and NGOs to solve the global challenge of ensuring ‘smart cities’.
What interests Chen the most about the subject is what she will learn about becoming  a global leader in diversity.
“The world is becoming global and the trend in societies is towards greater diversity. It’s going to be extraordinary to meet with top leaders from the UK, Canada, India, Hong Kong, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Norway, Pakistan, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Australia, Brunei, Ghana and the Britsih Virgin Islands and seeing their perspectives and practices on the same issue.”
“We need social as well as financial capital to ensure inclusivity and cohesion. For example, we don’t want the extremist views of isolated people resulting in terrorism on the streets, or a rising tide of racism which prevents minorities being able to contribute to the country’s economic performance,” Chen said.
Auckland is the only city in New Zealand that falls within the official OECD definition of a city, but Chen said that it was superdiverse, and would increasingly become more so over time raising significant public law and policy challenges that would need to be met.
“I think the CSC Leaders conference will give me helpful insight into the superdiversity issues that Auckland and New Zealand is facing and possible remedies,” she said.
Chen will be travelling to attend this year’s CSCLeaders in the UK in April and Singapore in September.