Five minutes with...Nick Russell, Chen Palmer

by Mackenzie McCarty14 Feb 2014
Nick Russell is a Wellington-based partner at public and employment law firm Chen Palmer. He talks to NZ Lawyer about cycling, strong black coffee and why New Zealand lawyers should be grateful they're not practicing in the Cook Islands...

NZL: How would you sum up lawyers in three words?
NR: Diverse, talented and idiosyncratic

What made you decide to become a lawyer?
I always wanted to be a lawyer, [it’s] probably the result of watching too many courtroom dramas when I was young (my family would say that my capacity for argument probably also has something to do with it).  But it was only after I moved to New Zealand from the UK in the early 90’s that I had the chance to get to law school – I was working at the University of Auckland at the time and that gave me an opportunity to start studying part-time, which quickly became full time.

What’s the strangest case you’ve ever worked on/been involved with?
The strangest case would have to be a judicial review involving the export of live cattle to South Korea.  That involved the most unlikely combination of people, statutes and legal considerations I can ever remember in one case.  I’ve also recently appeared in an appeal in the Cook Islands Court of Appeal, which was quite an education.  You never realise how much we take for granted as lawyers until it is missing.  It is a real challenge arguing a case involving statutory interpretation when you are not sure which version of a statute is correct, or whether it has been repealed.

You’re based in Wellington – name one thing in the city that visitors must see before they leave and tell us why?
Just go for a walk around the harbour - [you] can’t go wrong.

Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t a lawyer, I would be…
Unemployable!  I’ve always wondered about writing, but I’ve never given it a go.  If I could work out a way of earning money from riding a bike and going to gigs, I’d be pretty happy.

What do you think will be single biggest issue facing the corporate/commercial legal space in New Zealand in 2014?
Chen Palmer specialises in strategic public law, so for many of our clients the general election is the biggest single issue.  Clients want to know how their businesses are going to be affected by the outcome of the election, in terms of who gets to form the Government and what policies will be implemented.  But they also need to know how they can work with Government, regulators and public servants during the election process. 

How do you take your coffee?
Black and very strong.

Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of work?
I have a family which takes up quite a bit of time.  But I love cycling, walking, music and wine.  Usually not at the same time.

What do you love about your job?
I love the variety and unpredictability of it.  Because Chen Palmer has such a strong reputation in the public law field, we often get instructed by clients who have exhausted conventional legal options and are looking for a circuit breaker.  Our job is to look for different approaches, which might involve anything from litigation to law reform.  Public law issues can arise almost anywhere so we don’t know from one week to the next what we’ll be dealing with.  In the last few months we have worked on everything from a ministerial inquiry to psychoactive substances.
What would you change about your job right now if you could?
In a perfect world there would be more time!  But beyond that, I can’t think of anything I would change.  We are blessed with a terrific team of lawyers and support people and it’s a real privilege to work with them.