Partner of 25 years leaves firm to take up unique position

by Sophie Schroder31 Oct 2014
After 25 years as a commercial partner with Buddle Findlay, Mark Russell has decided to leave in order to begin practice as a commercial barrister in Christchurch.
He says he will be one of the few, if not the only, commercial barristers operating in the South Island. He’ll be joining Canterbury Chambers, headed up by Nicholas Davidson, QC.
He will also be unique within the chambers itself: All the existing members are litigators and court advocates, whereas Russell has no plans to become a litigator, and will be a barrister that doesn’t appear in court.
It’s a brave move going out on his own after so long with the same firm, but Russell told NZ Lawyer that it was time.
“It’s 25 years during which time I’ve been flat-out doing work in corporate and financing law. There are a basket of reasons [for leaving] – it means I will have more freedom to do the sort of work I want to do,” he says.
“When you’re part of a large firm there are more procedures and protocols you have to abide by, for example, if you want to take directorships. In practice, it means I have less scope to become a director of say, a start-up company. I’ve had a number of opportunities to [do this] that I’ve had to decline. Being your own boss and the flexibility it brings seems preferable.”
Russell, who will make his move early next year when the Canterbury Chambers moves into its new Christchurch premises on Victoria Street, says he’s looking forward to building on the expertise he’s built up over the past 25 years in the commercial sector.
He says that over his time at Buddle Findlay he’s received many referrals from other law firms, and he’s hoping these will only increase in his new capacity as a barrister because firms won’t feel as threatened that they’ll lose clients to him.
Russell is also looking to build up a practice as a commercial mediator and arbitrator.
He says there aren’t many, if any, commercial barristers in the South Island, simply because it’s a smaller market that lags behind its “big smoke” counterparts.
“I’m sure it’s to do with the size of Christchurch as opposed to the larger centres,” he says. “But the Christchurch market is an interesting one because it’s being driven to a great extent by the rebuild, and it’s boom time.”
But of course, where there are developments, there are disputes, which will provide a “great deal” of opportunities for lawyers like Russell.
He says parties also generally want to have an ability to solve disputes without going to court, which is where mediation and arbitration will come in.

And as quite possibly the only commercial barrister in the South Island, Russell will be in a prime position to take advantage of these work possibilities.
“I foresee that opportunity, and I’d like to exploit it,” he says. “I’d like to think that the timing is right – it’s difficult to leave a comfort zone, but at the same time I think that learning new things is always healthy.”
His long-time firm has been supportive of Russell’s decision.  He says the predominant reaction is that he must do what’s best for him, and if he’s happy then, “good on you”.
“There’s one thing that always proves to be the case if you’re in a firm, and it’s that if someone leaves, life always goes on… No-one is indispensable.”
Russell says he won’t be taking any of his existing work at Buddle Findlay to the chambers, which he will be joining in mid-January, because he says that should “properly” remain with the firm.
“I’ll be starting with a clean slate.”