Exclusive interview: Meet New Zealand’s new Minister of Justice

by Sophie Schroder08 Oct 2014
Amy Adams always wanted to become a lawyer.

On Monday, the National MP was promoted to the front bench and handed the illustrious title of Minister of Justice, one previously held by Judith Collins who resigned from the position in August after becoming embroiled in the Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater saga.

Adams, who has until now held positions as Communications Minister and Environment Minister, told NZ Lawyer since she was a child her goal was to become a lawyer.

“I remember a couple of teachers saying to me I should be one because I could talk the leg off a table,” she laughs.

The MP went to Canterbury University and studied law, graduating with first class honours. Her first job was at a firm in Invercargill before she made a move to Christchurch for love, and became engaged.

Although Adams hasn’t practiced for seven years since becoming an MP, she suspects there are probably still some of the same issues affecting the profession.

“The high rates of depression and anxiety [amongst lawyers] suggests we haven’t quite got that one fixed yet,” she says.

“And one of the things I struggled with when I was a lawyer was how it allows women to stay in the profession and balance family life.”

Adams took a career break in the lead up to having her two children. The decision between full-time or nothing was a deal breaker - so she left.

Upon her return to the profession on a part-time basis, the MP was overwhelmed to see how much had changed already.

She worked hard, and was subsequently elected as a partner with Mortlock McCormack Law in Christchurch, specialising in commercial and property law.

Interestingly however, the firm agreed to allow Adams to be a “part-time partner”, lending her the ability to balance her work and family life.

 “As far as I know it was the first time in Canterbury that had been done,” she says. “We worked it on the basis I had half the shares…but had a full say at the partnership table.”

Adams will be sworn in as minister today. She’s diplomatic about what her areas of focus will be or what challenges she expects to face, but - as she says - it’s still very “early days”.

The high level goals – protecting victims through our justice system – will always be the same, but within that there is bound to be a “myriad” of smaller focus areas that emerge, she says.

“You generally find as a minister that none of the decisions that come across your desk are easy…I want to get to know the profession and sector – talk to the profession. I don’t want to assume it’s the same as when I left.”

The New Zealand Law Society has already extended its congratulations to Adams on the new role.

Executive director Christine Grice says she looks forward to meeting and working with the MP, and seeing what her priorities will be.

Grice expects issues like the introduction of electronic transactions into New Zealand courts and access to justice are some of the major issues Adams will focus on in her term.

“I think the big changes we’ve seen in the last couple of terms now need to be bedded down,” Grice told NZ Lawyer.

The Lawyers and Conveyancers Act will now also be the MP’s responsibility, which has the objective of maintaining public confidence in the provision of legal services, protecting the consumers of the services and recognising the status of the profession.

“We are sure that under Ms Adam’s watch, New Zealand will continue to have a highly competent and client-focused professional,” says Grice.

Adams is still digesting her promotion. She says in Parliament there are always a collection of roles that you look at and think, “gosh, I could add some value”. With her legal background, the Minister of Justice was right up there.

“When the Prime Minister rang me on Sunday and said he’d decided to put me in that role, I was just absolutely delighted.”