Five minutes with our new President, Joanna Pidgeon

2017 has already been an exciting year for ADLS. It has seen the launch of a new brand identity for ADLS, to better reflect our now national identity and position of thought leadership, and the updating of our rules to allow for greater participation in meetings and voting by our members across the country.

Joanna Pidgeon

And now, new President Joanna Pidgeon steps up to take the reins of the organisation as we farewell Brian Keene QC after three years of dedicated service.

Ms Pidgeon has a long history of involvement with ADLS, having served on various ADLS Committees for a number of years, including the Property Law Committee, the Property Disputes Committee and the leasing sub-Committee of the Documents and Precedents Committee. However, she needed a nudge to stand for Council, and that came from former Councillor Nola Dangen, who was keen to see her take the next step.

“I kept on saying that the timing was not right – I was too busy, I had young kids,” says Ms Pidgeon. “But then Nola phoned me again just as my eight-year term on the board of the Selwyn Foundation was coming to an end. I could see that there would be more of a gap in my responsibilities and I thought it was the right time to say yes. It is a big step to put yourself forward like that, but I am really glad I did so.”

She was duly elected onto Council in 2012, before becoming Vice President under Brian Keene QC in 2014. Having now become President, she is excited by the opportunity to lead ADLS into the next chapter. And just as ADLS’ new look reflects both old and new, heritage and future, Ms Pidgeon says that so too her presidency will be a case of continuing to build on ADLS’ past successes and continuing to engage with our members and the profession.

“Sue Keppel has built a great team at ADLS and the organisation is really punching above its weight,” she says. “It is great to be able to step in as President of an organisation that is in good heart.”

Ms Pidgeon hails from a family of lawyers, including father Colin Pidgeon QC, himself a past President of ADLS. He was, says Ms Pidgeon, one of the main inspirations behind her own desire to practise law.

“Growing up, Dad never encouraged us to do law, but he always had such great work stories and would talk to us about interesting cases he was working on, such as the Winebox inquiry. He loved what he did and felt passionate about it. I saw the enjoyment he got out of helping others and how fulfilling he found it, and that was what led me to want to decide it was the career for me. As it turns out, four out of the six kids in our family have done law degrees, so Dad must have been a good role model.”

With a love of speech and drama, litigation originally lured her with its siren song.

“Dad always said that the best thing to do if you wanted to be a litigator was to work in general practice first, so that you get an understanding of transacting business before you try to litigate it. So I summer clerked with Simpson Grierson in Wellington before getting a job with Peter Newfield in Auckland, where I did property, commercial work and a bit of litigation.

“I really enjoyed the litigation work, but often found that even if you got a good result for the client, they generally hoped that they’d never have to see you again.

“Then Simpson Grierson approached me to go back and join its commercial property team. I did a lot of soul-searching about what I really enjoyed, and in the end it came down to helping people achieve what they want and being able to build up ongoing client relationships. Now, I have clients for whom I’ve acted for years and I now act for their children as well.”

Joanna Pidgeon is no stranger to leadership – she runs her own successful practice, Pidgeon Law, which she set up with the encouragement of husband Phillip who now acts as practice manager.

“As well as my two lovely daughters (Lizzie, who is 11, and Charlotte, who is nine), my firm is one of my proudest achievements. It was not easy setting it up during the GFC and with my youngest daughter just a toddler, and I could not have done it without the support of my husband. It has been amazing to see the firm flourish and grow – we will be eight years old on 1 May this year.”

She is grateful at the way having her own practice enables her to give of her time to other organisations, including the Auckland City Mission where she sits on the board and chairs the Property and Development Committee.

“The City Mission is such a great organisation to be involved with, dealing as it does with people in desperate need who don’t have anywhere else to go. There are opportunities to engage with Government and we’re implementing a “Housing First” policy working with Lifewise. We hope to be able to announce another big project very shortly, so watch this space.”

Ms Pidgeon says she is a “people person” and it is this coupled with the chance to stretch her mind that gets her going each day and makes her work satisfying, both at her own firm and in her role at ADLS.

“I have a fantastic team, I enjoy my clients, and I like the intellectual stimulation. These days, I often find that other lawyers will come here for our particular expertise or help in solving problem files.

“Similarly, as I’ve become more involved with ADLS, there have been opportunities to engage with people and help shape law reform and other problematic issues, like our work on cross lease law reforms and the Land Transfer Bill. A highlight has been being part of the Unit Titles collaborative working group with MP Nikki Kaye, and we are hoping that draft legislation will be introduced soon.”

She says that the past few years have been an inspiring time in which to be involved in ADLS as the Council has worked to make ADLS what it is today.

“We have been translating the vision of a national society into a reality – going out and meeting with people and empowering our Committees to get more involved with legislative reform. One of the things people say about us is that we are very nimble in response to change, and this is reflected in our creation of the new Health & Safety Law and Trust Law Committees, as well as the development of WebForms into the platform it is today.”

As President, Ms Pidgeon says that she is looking forward to continuing to engage with lawyers and firms of all sizes across the country, fostering professional collegiality in an increasingly technology-reliant world, and assisting practitioners to better face future challenges, whether due to technological changes or the increased burdens being placed on lawyers from changing regulatory and reporting obligations.

“The practice of law now is so much more remote – there are no settlements in person anymore or sitting up at court in the lists – so you are not catching up with people in the same way. The uptake of ADLS’ Lawyers’ Lunches reflects how much people enjoy connecting in person rather than just by email or over the telephone. It’s important to have those personal connections – it makes transacting with other lawyers easier.

“Things like AML/CFT and RLWT add layers on to the workload of busy practitioners. Our role is to give our busy members the advice and support they need and to help them deal with and correctly implement these changes in their practices. It can be very hard to keep up-to-date with these sorts of things when you are so busy, and people do look to ADLS for help.

“Our membership growth shows we are connecting with what people are wanting. I hope to be able to build on that.”

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