Exclusive: New partner for Chen Palmer

by Mackenzie McCarty18 Jun 2014
Hot on the tail of her equity partnership announcement last week, Chen Palmer founding partner, Mai Chen, has announced that senior associate James Dunne will be joining the partnership, subject to the approval of the Law Society.

Dunne, the son of United Future leader, Peter Dunne, has worked at the boutique public and employment law firm for seven years and despite his relatively young age (Dunne has not yet turned 30), Chen says he has what it takes.

“The unusual thing about James is that he is not only a very good black letter lawyer, but he also has a good understanding of public policy, politics and the public law interface with the media”, says Chen. "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.”

Dunne tells NZ Lawyer it has always been his intention to build a career at Chen Palmer and that he was pleasantly surprised by the timing of the offer.

“I’ve seen Mai make some real moves towards establishing a succession; it’s something that’s been a priority for her for some time,” he says. “I’ve always seen myself as being at Chen Palmer for a very long period of time, so I was surprised a bit perhaps by the timing, but otherwise Chen Palmer is my home and it’s where I intended to practise for the foreseeable future.”

When asked whether he thinks his age will indeed prove to be a challenge in his new role, Dunne is quick to pose the opposite.

“It’s a bit of a trite statement, but age is just a number. It’s not so much about age as it is experience and what I can contribute and bring to the business,” he says. “Mai was about my age when she entered into the partnership with Geoffrey and it’s important, I think, to get young blood in...It’s important to [get] more, younger, senior lawyers – and I think you’ll see more of them as time passes.”

The world is increasingly moving towards a 24/7 online structure and Dunne believes this will have a direct impact on public law in particular.

“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. 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.”

Dunne says his appointment to the Chen Palmer partnership is not only an “exciting” opportunity, but also a chance to make a difference in public law.

“The world is changing very quickly, so there are always going to be opportunities and you’ve just got to recognise them when they come and grab them as quickly as you can.”
Dunne’s recent work highlights includes dealing with the regulation of psychoactive substances and advising with a range of regulators, including the Overseas Investment Office.

His key specialty is Parliament and law reform, including advising on the Parliamentary process, the enactment of Bills, drafting submissions to Select Committees, appearances at Select Committee financial reviews and inquiries, Parliamentary privilege, complaints to the Regulations Review Committee and general strategic public law advice around turning policy into legislation.

Dunne will continue to practise from the firm's Wellington office, along with Partner Nick Russell.