High Achiever: Jonathan Temm

By Julie Taylor

HIGH ACHIEVER: Jonathan Temm, barrister and New Zealand Law Society president

Today Jonathan Temm is the president of the New Zealand Law Society, but the barrister's law career nearly came to an end before it started.

"When I first applied to Auckland University Law School, I missed out on the entry criteria. Too many other applicants were better students than I."

But persistence paid off and Jonathan was accepted to law school the following year and he has found that persistence a helpful trait in all areas of life.

"If you want something, you have to work hard to get it."


After graduating, he joined the large Auckland commercial law firm Chapman Tripp Sheffield Young, before moving to Rotorua to join Davys Burton. He went on to become a partner and senior Crown counsel before starting his own practice, Phoenix Chambers.


The seeds of his career were sown early as his father was a lawyer and Jonathan grew up in a household where legal issues were regularly discussed. With so many different types of law work available, he was drawn to the courtroom and criminal jury trial work because of the intellectual challenge.


"For this type of work, I found these things helped - problem-solving skills, the precision of the English language and a desire to help people."

He became a barrister in 2005, specialising in criminal law and civil litigation and has been involved in serious criminal litigation cases, including the high-profile Nia Glassie homicide trial.


Jonathan has been active in the Law Society since 2000 and has been a board member for four years and president for nearly two years. In 2010, he was director of its Continuing Legal Education Litigation Skills programme and he is a former president of the Waikato Bay of Plenty District Law Society.

But he hasn't lost sight of what the grass-roots job is all about - helping people. Jonathan says lawyers of all types need a good understanding of their clients' needs and the best outcome for each client.

"Successful lawyers are those who actually help clients and assist clients through whatever the current issue is. Essentially, lawyers need to be analytical people who like problem solving and, above all, lawyers need to have high standards of conduct and personal integrity."

But that is not always the way lawyers are portrayed and that is something he would like to change.


"The legal profession is often portrayed by the media and in the wider community with a degree of scorn or contempt."

Jonathan says that type of portrayal is not typical of most people's experience.


"Most reasonable people have a good relationship with their own lawyer and, if one of their children chose to do a law degree, they would probably encourage that.

"There are 11,500 lawyers in New Zealand and most are held in high regard by their clients and the communities they live in."

He admits a few lawyers do let the side down, but says that is true of any sector - politics, medicine, teaching etcetera.

"A very small few do not represent the standard of the vast majority."



What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

I was a Herald paperboy in Mt Eden, Auckland for six years, from age 11 to 17. It taught me to get up early and get a start on the day and an early sense of responsibility. It is not possible to ring in sick at 6am.

You are nearly two thirds of your way through your term as NZLS President. What have you achieved so far and what do you hope to add to this in the year ahead?

Three big challenges are underway in the legal profession:

1. To perform the statutory role as the regulator of the profession to a high standard - an on-going challenge to constantly improve and raise standards and deal with complaints quickly and effectively.

2. The mandatory continuing professional development programme requires all lawyers to do continuing legal education every year. This programme needs to be fine-tuned and implemented so lawyers perform to a consistently high standard in all areas of legal work.

3. There are many vulnerable people in the community who need legal services and legal aid to help them. The big challenge at the moment is to ensure the legal aid system, which is under constant fiscal review and change, continues to achieve justice for those people who need it.

We have to be able to find a voice for those in the community who need to be heard.


If you could do another job for a day what would it be and why?

For a complete change of pace and stress, I would choose to be a lifeguard on Aitutaki's One Foot Island in the Cook Islands. It is a lovely locality and there would be little work pressure.

How do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?

Trout fishing, tramping in the New Zealand bush, cycling and playing golf badly.


- Rotorua Daily Post

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