Only good bastards need apply for jobs with Whanganui law firm Treadwell Gordon.
You could be forgiven for thinking a 150-year-old law firm would be crusty, dusty and full of people in suits.
Treadwell Gordon is celebrating the 150-year milestone this year but while the suits are still in evidence, their modern offices are home to men and women of a range of ages, have the latest technology and offer spectacular views.
The firm's Whanganui base is on the top floor of the former Computer Centre building at 1 Bates St and has views along the Whanganui River, across the city and to the mountains.
The law books have been made into a feature in a hallway because no one uses them any more and there's a distinct lack of piles of paper in this paperless office. They're all about the technology.
Head to the donko and you'll find everyone in the office doing a daily quiz during their smoko break and at any time there could be people playing table tennis - and no one frowning or telling them to get back to work. The most junior member of staff is assigned to doing the rounds with the drinks trolley.
The Whanganui Chronicle meets two of the partners, Richard Austin and Simon Badger, in Badger's office where he has his cricket bat handy to practise his batting technique - he says it helps him think.
Austin's thinking technique involves wandering around the building, closing his eyes and dictating his thoughts through his headset. They're all on his computer screen when he returns to his desk.
This approach to allowing people to work in the ways they perform best flows through to all the staff. About half the nearly 40 staff have some form of flexible working arrangement, allowing them to work from the firm's other offices or from home. They can take time out for their kids' activities. They can choose to work evenings or weekends if that suits them. And no one other than senior staff has a fee target they must meet. This allows staff to set their own chargeable time targets.
Austin and Badger talk about how the legal profession has changed in the 150 years Treadwell Gordon has been in practice and what they're looking for these days when they employ staff.
Liability for damage caused by stock
Lets talk law: No need to sit on the fence
The number one prerequisite is that employees need to be a "GB" - a good bastard - and staff culture is the firm's top priority.
"The clients are the reason we are here but we have to have the resources to do it and the resource is a happy staff culture," Austin said.
Badger said there had been a challenge in attracting quality staff to Whanganui until recent years when the firm's forward-thinking approach to technology, flexibility and staff culture changed things.
"We're looking for staff who are a GB - how do you contribute to the culture of the firm, do people like being around you, will you be good for our culture?" Badger said.
"Do clients like you? A result of having good people is that clients generally like them. The third thing is time management and things like that.
"I've been here three years and there have been dramatic changes in that time. We're ahead of most law firms in New Zealand in terms of adopting technology and the way we work."
It's a far cry from the day in 1986 when Austin returned from a lawyers' golf tournament and told his partners about this new contraption called a "fax machine".
"My partners wanted to know what it was," he said.
"I said it was a printer at the end of the phone line. We didn't get one. The partnership then was rattled that this device might create an expectation to reply on the same day. We bought one three months later."
These days everyone in the office has access to voice recognition software to produce their own documents so the former secretaries and typists have been redeployed to other roles.
Email and specialisation has made a huge change to the way the office works, Austin said.
"Email makes it so much easier. When we engage with a client, we'll copy in a specialist in the firm. The relationship between the lawyer and client is still important. You win the relationship through personal interaction rather than speciality. Communication is a major change from the old days."
Austin said back in the day a lawyer was a generalist but nowadays the capacity for being a generalist isn't so easy.
"[Former partner] Gordon Swan will say that when he first began practice he only needed to know five Acts of Parliament: the Land Transfer Act, the Property Law Act, the Matrimonial Proceedings Act, the Companies Act and the Transport Act. By the time he retired from active practice 10 years ago, he would have had to have working knowledge of over 50 Acts - and there were still hundreds of others on the books. Hence the law has required greater specialisation. We have made a deliberate move to focus on specialisation."
Specialisation has driven much of the firm's growth in the past three to four years, Badger said.
"Clients expect you will have an in-depth knowledge. So, for example, we now have a specialist in employment law, another in Māori land law."
The firm was recently approached by a senior lawyer at the Commerce Commission who is moving to Whanganui. While they didn't have a specific vacancy for her, the firm didn't want to pass up her specialist skills and has snapped her up.
Specialisation is only one change since Badger's great-great-great-grandfather Wilfred Badger published the first compilation of New Zealand-initiated legislation in 1885.
"Common law, drawn from the UK, would have guided most legal advice," Austin said.
"To a large extent, it could be said it was much simpler to provide legal advice back in those days as the law was less prescriptive; more of a case of it getting forgiveness rather than permission.
"There were no central land registries or other registers of property rights. Hence 'ownership' or 'title' was recorded in Deeds which were evidence of the fact. Hence the flowery, wax, copperplate nature striving for perpetuity and importance. The Land Register came in with the advent of the 'Torrens' land system in 1910 which provided a central register of ownership and boundary definition - which the government guaranteed.
"Compliance now dominates most transactions. Land Transfer Act identification processes and the Anti-Money Laundering legislation cast a heavy shadow over day to day practice, much to clients' dismay. It would be of much interest to the profession to learn what tangible benefits flow from it.
"Biggest change came with the Electronic Transactions Act in 2003 which most lawyers didn't really pick up on for 10 years. [It's now covered by the Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017]. The law now allows for pdf files to be accepted as prime evidence in many cases, but not wills and enduring powers of attorney. Hence you no longer need, in most cases, to exchange multiple copies by courier or post. Scanned emailed versions are fine. It makes for instant and easy closure. The courts still require originals to be filed.
"And of course emails make for ease, speed and record keeping. A dramatic change, but a dangerous one as discipline is required to hold back from precipitate responses."
Austin said the lawyer's role is to advise, not to decide, but these days most younger staff under 40 have "a troubling lack of courage".
"The governments of the day, with a propensity for over-prescription and compliance, has created a generation imbued in 'process' and fearful of exercising common sense," he said.
"Decisions, or advice given, by younger lawyers seems to be heavily weighted on ensuring any outcome risk is not borne by them but rather the client. Whilst risk should not be taken on by the lawyer, clients do come looking for solutions."
The clients are often more interesting than the law, Austin said.
"The law is what it is, and sometimes isn't when you think it was. The law is only a tool, or a road map, to assist where a client wants to get there.
"What is most interesting is the human dynamic. Some clients are blindingly loyal, which is humbling but burdensome. Some clients think they know more and can't understand why they even need a lawyer - and perhaps want an insurance policy to blame. Some clients expect answers which lawyers can't fix. Some display remarkable integrity in the face of financial crisis or opportunity. Some display worrying exclusive self-interest. Some are bright and some are not so ... and each may be equally difficult to assist."
Treadwell Gordon has families that have been using its services for four generations "and inevitably there will be some who have been with us from day one", Austin said.
The firm has clients in the Far North and South Island, all resulting from existing relationships. Badger is currently working with a venture capitalist in Sydney, also based on a prior relationship.
"The relationship underpins every instruction," Austin said.
The firm can trace its roots back to March 1869 when CH Borlase and WH Barnicoat hung their shingle as Borlase and Barnicoat. The firm acted for several prominent businesses and banks at a time when Whanganui was a leading commercial centre in New Zealand.
William James (WJ) Treadwell set up practice in Whanganui in 1892 and soon after formed a partnership with Thomas Lloyd as Treadwell Lloyd.
George Stannard Gordon was practising in partnership with C Burnett. In 1907 the firm of Barnicoat Treadwell and Gordon was formed. When Barnicoat died in 1909, the firm became Treadwell and Gordon. Those two names have since remained a constant although other names have been added and removed over the years.
Treadwell Gordon now operates from six sites around the wider region: Waverley, Taihape, Ohakune, Marton, Feilding and Whanganui. Staff also work from Auckland and Taupō.
The current partners are Richard Austin, Simon Badger, Garry Spooner and Lisa Douglas.