Christchurch firms enjoy 'burgeoning' workload

by Mackenzie McCarty21 Feb 2014
Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, a disaster that sent the city tumbling to the ground and left many firms struggling to provide space for their staff – but local lawyers say the recovery process, while frustratingly slow at times, is starting to take shape.

Lane Neave Managing Partner, Bill Dwyer and Minter Ellison Rudd Watts managing partner, Mark Weenink, admit that, three years on, the inner city still ‘looks like a bomb site’.

“Demolition is almost complete; however, a few signs of rebuilding are visible. Restaurants, bars and cafes are popping up and ever so gradually, the inner-city is coming back to life, which is cause for guarded celebration.”

Law firms are slowly starting to move back into the city as well. Wynn Williams expects to be in its new offices in July, while Buddle Findlay recently moved into its new building near Hagley Park and Lane Neave is anticipating the completion of its premises in the central city, scheduled for 2015.

Wynn Williams partner, Jared Ormsby, says his firm was one of the first to head back into the central city.

“Most of the firms have congregated in Victoria Street, but we have taken premises closer to the heart of the city on the corner of Hereford and Montreal Street, right next to the Christchurch City Countil and Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority,” said Ormsby.

Dwyer adds that many firms have opted for locations on the fringe of the city centre along Victoria Street and Lincoln Road.

“A justice precinct is contemplated in the rebuild plan, but as yet law firms are not moving there. This may be, in part, due to the declining need for firms to be next to the courts.”

All three partners agree business is going well in the city, with the rebuild helping to fuel the demand for legal guidance.

“Business is great,” says Ormsby. “Aside from construction and insurance work, there is a lot of litigation going on in both the public and private sector. There is also a lot of private client and small and medium business work – with more investment in the city, more people are taking up business opportunities and many people are still sorting out their own personal positions.”

Dwyer and Weenink say many areas of their firms’ Christchurch legal practices are ‘burgeoning’.

“A significant amount of the rebuild work is specialised and there’s much more involved than just constructing roads, buildings and homes. The challenges and opportunities in the city at present are also driving innovation across a wide range of areas and legal advisers are providing essential support to those advancing and engaging in ground-breaking activities.”

The two say they’re looking forward to seeing the city regain its cultural and economic positions as the gateway to the South Island.

“While the past few years have been about pulling down buildings, going forward it will be about reshaping the city in a way that reflects the aspirations of Cantabrians. There is also a very real opportunity to rebuild a world-class boutique city that will rival many cities around the world. After all, not many cities in recent time have been almost completely rebuilt.”

Dwyer and Weenink add that, for commercial players in the city, one of the key challenges is helping national and international businesses looking to be involved in the rebuild to understand the commercial realities on the ground and their implications for business.

“The Canterbury rebuild is the biggest construction and infrastructure challenge this country has ever seen and this has led to new innovative thinking between businesses and regulators alike. We would encourage all lawyers to adopt a solution-focused attitude to any challenges their clients may encounter in engaging with the Christchurch market.”

However, a general sense of tentative optimism appears to be hanging in the Canterbury air. Ormsby says the city continues to be a great place to live and work and that it’s exciting to see Christchurch come back to life.

“Continue to watch the legal space in Christchurch. Economic activity is really only just starting to kick in now and there are many exciting developments and legal cases yet to be seen in the city.”