Five minutes with... Greg Kelly

by Miklos Bolza25 Jan 2016
Greg Kelly, director at Greg Kelly Law, tells NZ Lawyer why he thinks succession planning is one of the biggest issues facing the NZ legal space.

What made you decide to become a lawyer?

 
I’m a person who enjoys a challenge. When I went to university, I thought law posed a challenge that other areas didn’t seem to have and so I took it up.
 
How long have you worked at Greg Kelly Law and what brought you to this position?
 
I’ve been here for just under seven years. I suppose I brought myself to this position. I was a partner in another firm for over 20 years and wanted to specialise in trust and estate law. That’s what I was really interested in and I didn’t want to do general stuff.  I also wanted to move to Wellington so I basically decided to do this myself.
 
What’s the most memorable case you’ve ever worked on?
 
This one was a case where a Japanese man bought land in New Zealand to set up a school to discover the cure to immortality. He died in the process. There was a lot of money – millions of dollars involved – and there was a fight over his estate which I became involved in. It was a bizarre case. Of course there were problems because he was based in Japan and had assets in Japan and assets here. There were various family members and claimants in Japan too – some of whom had to come over for hearings. It just got really complicated. One of the issues was what was the applicable law? Overall, it was an unusual background and there were also some interesting legal issues.
 
If you could invite three people for dinner, dead or alive and excluding family and friends, who would they be and why?
 
Honestly, I’d feel a bit awkward inviting people I don’t know. I don’t think it would work. I have thought of three people who I’d admire and who I’d like to meet but I’d never invite them for dinner! One is Michael Palin. I think he’s really interesting. He has a wonderful sense of humour. Another person is Barack Obama. I think he’s had a hard road to get where he is. He’s genuinely tried to carry out improvements in the States even though to some extent he’s been prevented from doing that. The third person is Jools Holland, a very good English piano player. I really like the way he plays. I’m interested in music and I used to play the piano when I was young so he would be interesting to meet.
 
Where’s the best place to go for a drink and/or dinner after work in Wellington?
 
There are a couple of places close to me that I enjoy going to. One is a place called Leuven which sells crepes, waffles, mussels and alcohol. It’s a Belgian bar which is close by. There’s another place called Avida. It’s a bar but they have tapas and meals. They’re not the most expensive or the best places in Wellington but they’re comfortable. If I go for a drink after work then those are two of the first places I think of.
 
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given (work or personal)?
 
One thing I was told earlier on is “If you make a mistake, you should admit it and apologise rather than trying to cover it up”. It’s amazing what credit you get if you do own up early. Also if you attempt to cover it up and you get caught out, the problem’s ten times as bad.
 
Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of work?
 
I’m very interested in sport, in particular cricket, rugby and golf. I’m also interested in music. I go to opera, jazz and musicals. Finally, I’m a keen traveller so my wife and I get away a couple of times a year.
 
Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t a lawyer, I would be…
 
…either a pianist or a history teacher. I was a keen piano player in my younger days but I chose a less risky career. Music’s not well paid or secure! And I’ve always been interested in history – I studied it in university and I really enjoyed it – but I chose law instead.
 
What do you think will be single biggest issue facing the legal space in New Zealand in 2016?
 
In New Zealand, succession in legal practices is becoming a real issue. There are a number of older lawyers who are struggling to move out of practice. They’ve been lawyers for a long time, have a lot of clients who rely on them, and it’s not easy to find a suitable person to take over. I think it’s going to be an increasing issue over the next year or two. It’s not just a nine-to-five job and it takes up a lot of your time.  I think a lot of younger lawyers look at this and think, “I’m not sure I want to spend the next 30 or 40 years doing that”.
 
The second issue is there is a collision between traditional trust & property laws and relationship property laws. The traditional position is you put a property into a trust or you own it – it’s your property and you’re free to deal with it. The relationship property laws for some years now have said that if you are married or in a de facto relationship then the starting point is a 50/50 division the assets. Now people are using family trusts and signing documents to preserve an asset so if they do separate then they retain it. This conflict will become an even bigger issue over the next year or two. The trouble is the legislation’s inadequate. They’re talking about changing the law but it’s not a quick process because you’ve got to get the right balance and that’s not easy.
 
If you had John Key’s job for one day, what would you do?
 
I wouldn’t want his job! What I would do if I had his job is take the day off. I don’t know what power he’s got anyway. I know he’s Prime Minister but any significant changes would have to go through the Cabinet and the Parliament. So you couldn’t do anything really in one day.
 
What do you love about your job?
 
The most satisfying part is when you deal with a family dispute – and it’s usually a fight over inheritance – and you can resolve that. You go through mediation and while you don’t always get the best outcome, at least the problems are resolved. It’s a great feeling when you can achieve that.
 
What would you change about your job right now if you could?
 
The thing that I don’t particularly enjoy about the job is supervision. I’ve got six people working for me so I have to spend a lot of time supervising and running my business. I enjoy practicing the law. I don’t find it nearly as enjoyable to have to supervise what other people are doing. So I suppose if I could get someone else to take over those jobs, at least for a while, I’d be quite happy.
 

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