Five Minutes With… Heather McKenzie, Christchurch Crown

by NZ Lawyer09 Feb 2015
Christchurch Crown prosecutor Heather McKenzie tells NZ Lawyer why the manager of Hotel des Mille Collines in Rwanda is on the list of people she’d like to meet.

What made you decide to become a lawyer?
I initially did a PhD in languages (French and Japanese) but was drawn to the profession or vocation of the law which I saw firsthand when my brother was admitted to the Bar. There was also the prospect of a more certain and secure job and income than I perceived there to be with an Arts degree (however rightly or wrongly). My first job as a Judges’ Clerk at the Auckland High Court clerking for Baragwanath, Priestley, and Fogarty JJ further drew me into the law and by the time I reached the Christchurch Crown, I was far gone.

How long have you worked at the Christchurch Crown and what brought you to this position?
I’ve worked at the Christchurch Crown for three years, but it would have been six had it not been for the interruption of the Christchurch earthquake. In the three years in between, I worked for the Auckland Crown (two years) and Chapman Tripp (one year). I returned to the Christchurch Crown because I missed the prosecution work and its unique responsibilities and privileges; it is a wonderful office to be in if you want court experience and close mentoring, and, being my first job following clerking, returning after a tour of duty was like coming home to family. Plus there is a lot of talent at the office to learn from.

What’s the strangest case you’ve ever worked on/been involved with?
It definitely was not a strange case because the possible factual scenario is all too common, but the most interesting case I’ve worked on related to Pitcairn Island. I didn’t get a trip there though as that would have involved about 6 months off work, and it was only my first year ...

If you could invite three people for dinner, dead or alive and excluding family and friends, who would they be and why?
Steve Jobs - to learn how to listen to what customers want (not what you think they might or should want), how to turn a struggling business and sinking brand into a global success and household “must have,” and while doing so make a fortune.
Paul Rusesabagina – the manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Rwanda who hid 1268 people in his hotel during the genocide of 1994 and in doing so saved their lives: to learn some serious emotional intelligence and calm in a world of strife. As he states in the book An Ordinary Man, “When the militia and the Army came with orders to kill my guests, I took them into my office, treated them like friends, offered them beer and cognac, and then persuaded them to neglect their task that day…. I said no to outrageous actions the way I thought that anybody would, and it still mystifies me that so many others could say yes.”
Bob Dylan – to get a glimpse into the mind of the man who wrote the world’s most beautiful song, Sara.

You’re based in Christchurch – where’s the best place to go for a drink and/or dinner after work?
I love C1 Espresso. It has a mellow atmosphere, good service, interesting people, and innovative food and drink - eg certain snacks such as fries shoot through pneumatic tubes to tables in capsules that keep people intrigued, and Golden Panther teas come in arty, collectible matchboxes with half to take home for later.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given (work or personal)?
That attention is your greatest resource; sometimes you just have to walk away from a situation or circumstance or relationship or comment; and to get up earlier if you want more time. All three are a work in progress, particularly the last.

Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of work?
I am a competitive runner and have done a few Ironmans (not competitively, I sink in the water) and ultra marathons. I enjoy reading and Australian author Tim Winton is my current favourite. I also like going to the movies and looking at art, preferably in big cities. And I love New York and sausage dogs, though not necessarily together.

Complete this sentence: If I weren’t a lawyer, I would be…
A surgeon in New York.

What do you think will be single biggest issue facing the legal space in New Zealand in 2015?
Possibly a call from consumers to have a clearer idea from the outset of what the final cost will be (what other service industry is engaged on an endless hourly rate according to what are often vague estimates of time involved?) or the move towards legal services increasingly being done in-house and law firms having to justify why clients should spend extra to instruct a law firm. Or it could be something as mundane as office space in Christchurch without too many windows…

If you had John Key’s job for one day, what would you do?
Fix Christchurch, but that would take more than one day. So I’d have to hope it was a particularly interesting day such as meeting Obama or the Queen.   

What do you love about your job?
I love 99% of it. Working at the Crown, each file is factually and legally interesting. There is great collegiality in the office and around the country as we all generally work for the same client, particularly in criminal matters where Police/Crown instruct the Crown Solicitor who holds the warrant for the particular geographic region. People generally aren’t competing for the same client and you don’t get the type of behaviour and protectiveness that can engender.
At the Christchurch Crown we are particlarly lucky to have partners generous with their time, supervision, and responsiveness to checking submissions or advice (ie you don’t wait weeks to get work back); the level of responsibility prosecutors are given is right; the office is very collegial, non-competitive, and staff share knowledge and experience (perhaps helped, again, by us all essentially having the same client); and the coffee truck comes once a week.
And I guess I feel lucky to be prosecuting on behalf of the State. You can only do that for criminal matters if you work at a Crown Solicitor’s office and it’s a privilege.

What would you change about your job right now if you could?
I’d ask for more hours in the day. There is so much interesting work at a Crown Solicitor’s firm and each case has its own unique factual and legal character – I wish I could do more. I also wouldn’t mind a suite of Apple Macs and associated devices for prosecutors, but perhaps I could ask Steve Jobs about that at dinner. 
 

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