48 Hours asked about the life and times of Kerikeri lawyer Jo Baguley whose colourful career spans an earlier draconian attitude to women in a male dominated profession, corporate law and an international fraud case during which a colleague was kneecapped. Baguley, who now runs her own friendly practice Atlas Legal in her home town, tells her story.

I grew up in Kerikeri in the 1980s. Back then, it was a small, close-knit community based around horticulture with a high level of European ex-pats - not too different from today except now it is considerably larger.

I attended Kerikeri High School which had around 500 students at the time. At the weekend, I worked at the Stone Store when it was a dairy, selling groceries to locals and fuel to boat owners visiting the basin.

My holiday jobs included strawberry picking where I was paid by the kilo of fruit picked. I wasn't very good at that job – I kept eating all of the best strawberries, reducing my hourly rate to about $2.45!


When I left school, the expectation was that many of us should leave Kerikeri and go to discover the Big Wide World, with no certainty that we would return. I headed off to Auckland University feeling homesick and scared but also excited about what else the world had to offer.

I sort of tumbled into a law degree not knowing what else to do. I didn't know it at the time, but my life was about to take a path considerably far removed from my Kerikeri upbringing.

When I graduated in the early 1990s, I was catapulted into the corporate legal world, starting as a fresh-faced law clerk for Russell McVeagh, or "the Factory" as it was known.

I was somewhat unusual as only one of two out of the 25 law graduates who came from a co-ed school. I remember people looking perplexed when I said I went through KKHS – some didn't even know where Kerikeri was.

And I remember vividly one person who said, loudly, "Oh, but you speak so nicely!"

Which school you came from was always the first question asked.

Legal procedures were archaic back then. Women were still required to wear skirts when appearing in court, so we had a strange ritual of getting dressed into skirts in the bathroom, donning wigs and gowns, before walking awkwardly to court.

We didn't really question it much – it was part of the era, bearing in mind that women's equality was still an emerging concept, not only in corporate law firms but across many aspects of New Zealand life.

Over time, expectations of equality have become the norm but, in many cases, behaviour is yet to catch up, particularly in professions such as law.


In my 25 years' of practice, I have worked in several corporate firms in New Zealand and overseas during which I had an incredibly diverse range of experience, some of which are very memorable for their element of the unusual.

Here are some of my favourites:

As a junior solicitor, I arrested a container ship in Auckland by pinning the arrest warrant to the mast among the burly Russian crewmen.

In London, I worked on a GBP300m (pre-EU) fraud case which spanned Europe and into Turkey. My predecessor had been kneecapped in Turkey on the front doorstep of a law firm while attempting to pick up documents, and I now had his job.

In Auckland, during the electricity crisis, Mercury Energy was our client so, while the rest of Auckland CBD closed down, we had to keep working – all 500 staff members were issued with yellow Dolphin torches so we could go to the bathroom in the pitch black. I still have that torch.

In the early 2000s, I lived in Christchurch with my husband, David, who I met through the Alpine Club. We were passionate about the Southern Alps and had moved there to enjoy mountaineering.

While I was also working at Chapman Tripp there, we were graced with two beautiful daughters and life became a continual unachievable juggle of caring for two babies, working long hours and attending networking after-work functions.

I realised that, despite being cared for by a wonderful nanny, our children were living different lives to us and it was not what I wanted, having been brought up in Kerikeri. It was time to go home.

Since moving back to Kerikeri, balancing a legal practice with family became slightly easier, especially with the support of my much-loved parents – Grandma and Granddad to our now teenage girls.

Yet, it still has had its challenges. All businesses which charge on the basis of time are a challenge for anyone who wants to spend equal or more time with family and community work. I still see this as the key barrier to professional practices moving forward to a truly healthy work-life balance.

I set up Atlas Legal in October last year, after many years with Law North. The concept and brand of Atlas Legal comes from my fanatic love of maps but is also a reflection of what I do in my job – I guide my clients through issues to find solutions.

Our office space is not your traditional law firm; it has spectacular images of mountains and coast strewn across the walls with a walk-through kitchen where we serve Nespresso.

We love seeing our clients enjoying the experience of being in a law office which is welcoming and calm, especially as many of them are going through difficult times.

The biggest kick we get from our practice is working with all parts of our diverse Northland communities – individuals, businesses, local government, iwi and community groups.

Diversity is the single biggest attraction about our Northland community and I love to be able to support it though my practice.