Bob Narev – a long and loyal life in the law

In November last year, well-known Auckland lawyer and ADLS member, Bob Narev, passed a significant milestone – 60 years in the practice of law.

Bob Narev

And in what is surely a rare feat of loyalty, every one of those 60 years has been spent at one firm – Glaister Ennor. In his “first and only job”, Bob (as he prefers to be called) progressed from clerk to solicitor, partner to senior partner and, ultimately, Chairman of the firm. And during that time, Glaister Ennor has been located in the same building, Norfolk House, with 2017 marking the 80th anniversary of the firm moving there.

Despite having notionally “retired” some years ago, Bob has continued to consult for the firm he first entered in November 1956. Now, at 81 years of age, he still holds a practising certificate, undertakes his annual CPD requirements and assists long-standing clients.

The path for this career lawyer, director and well-known member of the community was not straightforward. He never particularly intended to become a lawyer and New Zealand is a long way from his native Germany. But the events of World War II intervened with devastating effect in the life of the boy who was born Robert Narewczewitz in 1935. In 1942, along with numbers of other Jewish Germans, six year-old Bob with his parents and two grandmothers were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslavakia. Tragically, his father and grandmothers both died there, with only Bob and his mother surviving. Mother and son were released in 1945 and emigrated to Auckland in late 1947, abbreviating their surname at the same time.

Bob had no English when he arrived here and was prevented from immediately enrolling at Howick District High School (for what would have been his first experience of school at the age of 12) by a six month-long polio epidemic. However, he says that learning the language was “not too much of an obstacle” and made the most of the enforced delay by having one-on-one English lessons with a kindly local teacher. During his subsequent time at Auckland Boys’ Grammar School, Bob even won awards in the subject. “I just had to work harder,” he modestly says.

Bob attended Auckland University from 1954 to 1959. He initially undertook a Bachelor of Arts majoring in French and German, with the half-formed idea of going on to undertake postgraduate studies at the Sorbonne. But towards the latter part of his BA, plans changed. “There was originally no desire to study law, but then I found a young lady and suddenly I was going to need to make a living. I asked a friend of mine, Gisele Schenirer, who was a lecturer in French, what she thought I should do. ‘Why don’t you do law?’ she said.”

Freda, the “young lady” in question, was indeed special and has now been Bob’s wife for 58 happy years. (Like Bob, Freda survived the Holocaust which tragically claimed her parents – she was sheltered by a Catholic family in Poland before emigrating to New Zealand with her sister, who had managed to escape from the ghetto to which she had been sent.)

So, it was the stirrings of the heart which steered Bob’s course towards the law, and he soon began his law degree part-time in combination with working at a law firm. “You had lectures from eight ’til ten in the morning, then went to the office, then had lectures again from four ’til six in the evening. It was a good way to do it – you learnt on the job rather than turning up after years of study with no practical experience.”

And what led him to Glaister Ennor? Well, when he was looking for employment in 1956, only two law jobs were advertised. His interview at the first firm – Simpson, Coates & Clapshaw (as it then was) – went well and the firm indicated it would have liked to employ him, if not for the wage they would have to pay him as a 21 yearold which was considered on the high side for a starter. So, down the road Bob went to Glaister Ennor & Kiff, telling them, “I don’t care what you pay me, just give me a job!” The firm appeared more than happy with this arrangement, starting him out at £2.10 as a “glorified clerk” (roughly minimum wage at the time).

Early experiences mostly involved conveyancing work and court filings (incidentally, Bob helped with the conveyancing work for the original purchase of ADLS’s Chancery Chambers building). “Conveyancing was great,” he says, “because at the Land Transfer Office, you sat at the other side of the desk from the officials there, who could show you where your documentation was defective. And similarly, with filings at the Magistrates Court and the Supreme Court, the clerks would tell you whether your documentation needed amending. You ended up becoming good friends with the registrars, which you don’t really get to do today.”

Bob finished his law degree at the end of 1959 and was admitted early in 1960. He initially did a bit of court work which he “never particularly enjoyed” – “It was time out of the office, during which work would pile up on my desk.” So when the chance came to step up to the trusts and estates portfolio of the retiring Harrold Ennor, Bob took it.

Bob says that staying at the same firm for his whole career was an “evolutionary process”. “I moved up through the ranks as people above me moved on, eventually becoming the senior partner on the commercial side,” he says. In the early days, he did consider shifting firms and interviewed at a Pukekohe firm which dangled the prospect of partnership before him. But Stuart Ennor, when asked for his advice, opined that the younger man would be “better off staying where he was”. And so it proved – by the time Bob and Freda’s first child was born in 1962, Bob was able to visit his wife in hospital with the news that he would shortly be made partner.

With hindsight, Bob too considers that he made the right choice and that the size and culture of the firm suited him better than anywhere else he might have gone. Amusingly, having reached the requisite level of seniority, he was once asked if he wanted his name up on the wall along with “Glaister, Ennor & Kiff”. Bob quips, “I told them I was happy to be the ‘&’.”

Though “always a lawyer first”, Bob has also served as a director and/or Chairman of a number of companies over the years, including MFL Mutual Fund Limited, Superannuation Investments Limited and Kiwi Properties Limited (formerly Kiwi Income Property Trust). Interestingly, it was his Jewish connections that led to the opportunity to serve with Kiwi Properties Limited.

“Some people I didn’t know at the time decided to form a property company with a Canadian property investor, who happened to be Jewish. He came to New Zealand and met a friend of ours at the synagogue who recommended me as a ‘good lawyer’. So he rang me from his hotel and, on the way to the airport, stopped to meet me for five minutes in my driveway. Three months later I was asked to chair the board.”

Bob has also had long-standing connections with and done work for various trusts, community groups and charitable entities. Some of these connections have led to interesting consequences – in one instance Bob was made an Honorary Member of the New Zealand Dental Association in recognition of his involvement as a trustee of the Dental Research Foundation Trust. In another example, Bob was for 17 years a trustee of the Christian Healthcare Trust (originally established by the Church of Christ but latterly non-denominational), which operates a number of rest homes and private hospitals. As an active member of Auckland’s Jewish community, Bob was particularly tickled about how he came to be appointed to this role. Apparently, when one of the then-trustees (who happened to be Jewish) resigned, it was thought that it might be nice to replace her with someone else who was also Jewish. (“That and the Trust’s Chairman was a client,” he says.)

Over such a long time in one profession, Bob has inevitably noticed a number of changes, particularly in terms of how developing technology has impacted on legal practice. He recalls, “In my early days in conveyancing, you searched titles by looking them up and then copying out by hand the relevant information – owner details, mortgages and any other encumbrances.”

“When I became involved in company work, articles of association had to be typed in quintuplicate – if the secretaries made mistakes in typing them up, they would have to rub out the mistake on each of the copies. Photocopiers did not come in until much later. Handwritten ledgers and all of the firm’s current files were locked up in a safe every night which, at that point, was big enough to hold them all. Eventually, computerised accounting came in, followed by faxes, emails and iPhones. It was a bit hard for the oldies like me to get used to the new technology, but once you mastered the systems, it did make your life easier. The only thing I would say is that the speed of emails could make life a bit harder.”

“The other thing I didn’t like was the switch to time-recording as opposed to the previous system of using the Law Society scale. I am notorious for charging too little – I could never get used to recording in six minute units. The firm may have had an issue with that but the clients seemed to keep on coming back.”

Aside from his ongoing consulting work, Bob and Freda have for a number of years invested time into sharing their first-hand memories of growing up in wartime and going through the Holocaust. The couple is regularly invited to schools and other groups and, although they do not relish talking about their experiences as such, feel a strong sense of responsibility to educate the next generation so that the lessons of history will not be forgotten.

Freda says, “We’ve often asked ourselves why we survived. But I think you just have to make every experience into an opportunity.” Bob agrees and adds, “While we tell of our past, we don’t dwell on it. We tell our stories factually, but then we focus on trying to talk through how something like that could have happened in a civilised country. It is disappointing that parts of the world don’t seemed to have learnt too much of a lesson from those times.”

There seem to be few signs that Bob will be ceasing his many involvements any time soon. “I can only say that I thoroughly enjoy doing what I do or I wouldn’t have done it for this long,” he says. “In terms of the law, I’ve enjoyed working with people – the clients – many have become good friends.”

“Just last week, a letter arrived from a woman saying she had read a recent article about me. She wanted to thank me for helping her and her late husband to get a mortgage in April 1971 – she even sent me a copy of the firm’s statement from that time, which she had kept for all of those years. You can’t say that in every profession you have the chance to impact people’s lives like that.”

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