Two major partner appointments for award-winning firm

by Sophie Schroder03 Dec 2014
Public and employment law specialist Chen Palmer has announced that James Dunne has been confirmed as its newest partner, in a move that closely mirrors founding partner Mai Chen’s own entry into the firm.

In June, NZ Lawyer broke the news of Dunne’s appointment, which at the time was subject to the approval of the Law Society.

Now that it’s all confirmed, Dunne, a specialist in Parliament and law reform, says he feels honoured to step up to the plate during a time of growth and transition.

And that’s not all - Chen has also just revealed that principal Marina Matthews is also set to join the partnership ranks shortly.

“She has been invited to join the partnership and is awaiting Law Society approval,” she says.

The significant move will strengthen Chen Palmer’s succession and boost the partnership number up to four, supported by other senior lawyers in the Auckland and Wellington teams.

Between Chen, current partner Nick Russell, and the two newbies, there will be an impressive 41 years of experience working at Chen Partner in leadership positions.

Dunne has worked on every type public law instruction the firm attracts during his seven years there – no small feat for a lawyer who just turned 30 last month.

But perhaps this in itself is serendipitous.

"James is the same age I was when I went into partnership with Sir Geoffrey Palmer to found Chen Palmer. And I am the same age that Geoffrey was when he went into partnership with me. Geoffrey gave me the opportunity to become a top public lawyer, and I think James is the right person, in turn, to give that opportunity to,” says Chen.

Dunne told NZ Lawyer the timing couldn’t be better for him to join the leadership team.

“The firm is going so well at the moment. We’ve got a really strong success [record], Marina will be joining the partnership, Mai’s just finished the second edition of Public Law Toolbox…The firm is going into the next phase, after 20 years at the top of its specialty, so it’s really exciting to be at the start of that,” he says.

“It’s also a huge privilege to be able to do that with Mai, who has achieved so much.”

In terms of leading the firm forward, the young partner says that as well as a continuation of the focus on excellence above all else, he plans bring the firm to the forefront of new technology.

As a new generation lawyer, he says he’s ideally positioned to understand and take advantage of current and predicted technological advances.

As the world increasingly moves towards a 24/7 online structure, Dunne believes this will have a flow-on effect to public law.

“The increased appearance of open data is one of the things we’re interested in and what some of the impacts of this on public law are,” he says. “There is a huge amount more information out there, and the secret of Chen Palmer is cutting through that and working out what is really important.”

An overarching theme will also be the New Zealand Government’s move away from being analogue and going digital, he says.

While this will have huge efficiency gains, it will also mean there will be many more risks, such as accidental information leaking or hacking.

“It does change, I think, the way that people interact with government, the way they expect to interact with government, how they actually communicate with government and how they expect to hear from government,” says Dunne.

“I think that’s going to be the big challenge for public law over the next ten years – responding to that ever-increasing rate of change in a way that makes sure that the way government works, from a citizen’s perspective, still has some relation to what they actually do on a day-to-day basis.”

In celebration of the two new partners, its 20th anniversary, and the publication of the second edition of the Public Law Toolbox, Chen Palmer will be holding a major function in the Grand Hall of Parliament in February next year.