Top award for lawyer at forefront of “cutting edge” issues

by Sophie Schroder03 Oct 2014
Respected litigator and expert strategist Ian Cowper has been named as the 2014 recipient of the Resource Management Law Association of New Zealand’s (RMLA) Outstanding Person Award.

The special counsel at firm Meredith Connell has been practising environmental law for 30 years and has been involved in planning and resource management law for so long that he not only has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the legislation, but has also helped develop and test the various statutes through many high profile and important cases. 

He’s hailed for having an understanding not only of the letter of the law, but the intent of the lawmakers and those who interpret the law.

Cowper is also incredibly humble and tends to fly under the radar, says the lawyer who put his name forward for the award.

Meredith Connell partner Janette Campbell has worked with Cowper her entire professional career, from when she started at Bell Gully in 1993.

The pair left the firm together at the end of 2001 and started our own boutique resource management firm Cowper Campbell, which merged with Meredith Connell in November last year.

“He’s a great litigator and strategist. He’s even better at anticipating problems before they arise and avoiding them,” Campbell says of her mentor.

“I’ve heard someone describe witnesses as coming off the stand still with a smile on their face because they had such a pleasant time being cross examined by Ian, but then realising, ‘oh no, I’ve given the whole case away’.”

It was easy for Campbell to find other well-regarded lawyers to support her nomination of Cowper, who was none-the-wiser to what was going on.

At the awards, it was a complete surprise to him when his name was called out as the recipient, she says.

“At the ceremony on Friday [national committee member] Andrea Rickard started to speak and there was some chatter still going on. [But] when she announced that Ian was the winner the room went silent…I’ve never met anyone who has a bad word to say about him. He’s very well respected in the industry and the award is recognition of that.”

Although perhaps difficult for him to take the praise, during his acceptance speech modest Cowper outlined how grateful he was.

Campbell says aside from his hugely impressive track record and contribution to New Zealand environmental law, he is an all-around “nice guy”, who is a great mentor and treats his staff based on their merits, rather than seniority.

“He’s not the sort of person who courts attention for himself. He’s a guy who you go to when you want things done with a minimum of fuss and flourish.”

When it came to highlighting important cases Cowper had led on the application for the award, Campbell plugged his name into the Environment & Resources portion of Westlaw, only to be confronted with a huge 555 results. She jokes that this was too daunting a list of cases to work through.

To name just a few, Cowper has been worked on cases including obtaining resource consents for the repowering of the Marsden B power station at Marsden Point, getting consents for Waikato hydro system, obtaining resource consent for timber treatment plants in Northland and Southland, and more recently, being involved in “pretty hefty” policy in relation to geothermal and water resources.

“These are all cutting edge New Zealand issues and the big environmental issues we’re going to face in the next 10 years. He’s at the forefront of that,” says Campbell.