Key Points:

The old saying about it being easier to catch flies with honey than vinegar is just as true for lobbyists as anyone else, says Mai Chen.

Which is not what some of her rivals suggest. It appeared that other lobbyists largely bullied the Labour-led Government into backing down over the carbon tax, for example, and into keeping its word that forest owners could claim their own carbon credits.

But Chen insists that clients are likely to be far more successful getting what they want from politicians if they are prepared to at least try being nice about it. It will certainly be a lot cheaper that way, she says. And politicians also have long memories. "When people get cornered, they bite."

Unlike some lawyers, she will only take on a case if she is confident she can win, and if what the client wants to achieve is in the public interest - or at the very least, what the Government at the time will perceive as being in the public interest.

While that might sound subjective, years of dealing with politicians have enabled her to see things their way. "So we do the legal advice that other lawyers would do, but then we say: 'Well alright, this advice says you can do it, but should you do it? And given the Speech from the Throne and what the Government's priorities are, are you really going to be able to achieve this?'"

It also has to pass the "Herald test" - if the country's biggest newspaper exposes what's going on, will there be a public backlash?

In fact it is rare for the public to see her firm in action, as its preferred method is to work behind the scenes: gathering evidence, putting together a well-argued analysis, then working on freeing up whatever blockages might exist in the political pipeline.

However, it's still a law firm, concentrating on law reform, judicial reviews, regulatory issues, policy reform, and constitutional and administrative law issues. It does not, Chen stresses, do public relations or government relations.

Regardless of what label you use, Chen did manage to convince the Greens that the original draft of their Waste Minimisation Bill was going to wipe out the valuable scrap metal industry, and lead to less - rather than more - recycling. She got a marina for Whangamata, and she also insists that real estate agents got most of the changes they wanted to the Real Estate Agents Bill, though that's hardly the public perception.

But occasionally the firm's efforts are ignored. In that case, Chen will either get creative, or go to court. But litigation is always the last resort.

Even for the victors, the price they literally have to pay for justice in the courts is too often exorbitant, she acknowledges. She still has a painting in her office that is signed by all the members of the Whangamata Marina Society, in lieu of cash.

That said, about a third of the firm's work is litigation, and her current workload includes two particularly high-profile cases. She has been hired by former Auckland District Health Board member Tony Bierre to sue former Prime Minister Helen Clark for defamation over comments she made during the Labtests fiasco. Chen is also acting for National Party advisers Crosby/Textor, who are suing journalist Nicky Hager over comments he made to Radio New Zealand.

If nothing else, the cases are evidence that Chen is not the Labour Party poodle that some claim. And she is at pains to point out that the firm has worked with many different governments under MMP.

Recently, former Act MP Stephen Franks complained on his blog that clients were scared to hire him for public law work when he failed to get back into Parliament three years ago.

"I soon found that fear of vindictiveness from Labour scared a number of clients into keeping my help behind the scenes," he wrote after his latest defeat in Wellington Central.

Chen tries to keep her personal views hidden. She is also pleased that more and more clients these days seem to realise they need to be flexible in the MMP environment.

"I tell them that I will go in there with a good analysis and a lot of charm. And if that doesn't work, well - we'll talk to them about plan B."