ADLS Council member Tony Herring’s love of Christchurch (and running)

Tony Herring always thought he wanted to be a doctor.

Tony Herring

At Rotorua Boys’ High, he took chemistry, biology and physics with this aim firmly in mind. Though now a partner at Christchurch firm Mortlock McCormack Law, with clients ranging from NZ Police to Ministry of Justice, Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, and a strong practice in government work, the turnaround for the ADLS Council Member was triggered in his final year of high school, which he spent in Connecticut as part of the AFS Student Exchange Programme.

“It was the making of me,” he says. “Up until then, I had just been doing the sorts of things that all teenagers do, but my host father in Connecticut was a lawyer, and I did a bit of work for him. It was mostly photocopying and the like, but he was my inspiration to study law.” And, in a case of life turning full circle, he now also serves as Chairman of the AFS Educational Trust.

His Connecticut experience also fuelled a desire to fly Rotorua’s coop and experience law school in a different part of New Zealand. “While in the US, I visited 26 of the 50 states, and it seemed wrong that I should have seen so little of my own country. So, I decided to go to university in the South Island. Dunedin was too cold, so I settled on Canterbury, fell in love with Christchurch, and have been there ever since,” he says.

But, at that point, despite enrolling at law school, he was not intending to practise law on completion of his studies. “I wanted to be a diplomat – it seemed like the life for me. So, in addition to my LLB(Hons) specialising in international law, I did a BA in Political Science and German. However, when I didn’t make it through the second stage of the interview process with MFAT, I began looking around Christchurch for a law job.”

Unfortunately, during the period from 1995 to 1996, no one seemed to be hiring. “I knocked on a lot of doors and everyone would say no,” Mr Herring recalls. “I was constantly advised to come back when I had two to three years’ experience, but how was I supposed to get that unless anyone would hire me? I was also frequently asked what school I had been to – that appeared to be quite important. A couple of times I simply answered ‘Boys’ High’, omitting the name of the city, but still to no avail.”

With time ticking away and a child on the way, he began to wonder, somewhat despondently, whether he would need to leave the city he loved.

Fortunately, fate intervened in the form of an encounter with Simon Mortlock, who (on the back of a heart attack and quadruple bypass) had left Anthony Harper and was looking to set up a firm of his own. A preference for employing a graduate he could mould, rather than a solicitor with ingrained “bad habits”, coupled with a recommendation from brother-in-law Professor John Burrows (QC, as he now is), led him to Mr Herring. A somewhat daunting interview ensued – before both Mr and Mrs Mortlock (the latter of whom he later found out had augured good things from his “well-shined shoes”).

The new firm got underway in January 1997 with Mr Herring employed as a solicitor. The staff of just four was nearly overwhelmed when the full complement of Mr Mortlock’s former clients followed him to his new practice. Mr Herring describes his first day on the job as a “complete baptism by fire” – seeing three clients on his own, two of whom are still with the firm to this day.

Now 35-people strong, the firm (like others) has been on a rather topsy-turvy ride in the earthquake-damaged city. Its previous premises at 47 Cathedral Square took somewhat of a king-hit in the 2011 quake, with the neighbouring building collapsing into its own and staff being forced to evacuate in the midst of the chaos. In the following days, they managed to extract servers, wills and deeds from the building before it was red-stickered.

That, at least, was the experience of Mr Herring’s colleagues who were at work at the time – his own recollection of “the big one” was somewhat different. In November 2010, he suffered a broken neck after falling from a first floor balcony onto the marble floor below. The most common outcome of the injury he sustained (known as a “hangman’s break”) is instant death, with the second being total paralysis (a la Christopher Reeve). Miraculously, Mr Herring was amongst those who survive such an injury and go on to walk again – by far the least likely scenario.

His recovery involved three months in traction at Burwood Spinal Unit, followed by another three of home convalescence. It was shortly after he had been transferred home that the quake struck – just as the visiting District Nurse was about to assist him to shower. As the walls shook and collapsed around them, she was fortunately on hand to support his still-fragile head and neck, and to put his neck brace back on before they emerged to inspect the damage.

While in hospital, a visiting friend had challenged Mr Herring to commit to do “something epic”, to celebrate his having just cheated death. It ended in him agreeing to do an Ironman, despite not really being able to swim very well, and also being (at the time) some 25 kilos lighter than his usual weight. He was determined, however – he got a coach, bought a bike, learned to swim – and completed the Taupo Ironman some 20 months later.

He is now “obsessed” with marathons. Having done “the big six” (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York), he now has another goal – completing a marathon on each of the world’s seven continents. When we spoke, he was in the middle of training to run in Rio – taking his total up to five continents – with marathons in Africa and Antarctica next on the list.

As for the firm, with an increase in incoming earthquake- and insurance-related instructions, it didn’t suffer on the work-front, but the staff missed being in the CBD. Luckily, a client had a building available into which they could relocate at short notice. Despite being “next to a dog-wash” (as Mr Herring wryly observes), they were able to remain together – a fortunate position compared to some Christchurch firms whose staff were reduced to working out of partners’ homes.

Mr Herring describes the current spirit in the region as a mixture of optimism and frustration. The firm is enjoying its return to the Christchurch CBD, but life is not completely back to normal. “I like that I can walk down the road to a café for lunch again, and it is exciting to see new places opening up and taking off,” he says. “From my window, I can see the Cathedral and library, as well as cranes working on the new convention centre. However, there are still a few frustrations, for example having no stadium in which the All Blacks can play.”

As well as his “day job”, Mr Herring is very much enjoying sitting on ADLS’ Council. He has also been on a number of ADLS Committees (Property Law, Documents and Precedents, Employment Law and Property Disputes), and considers that the region is benefitting from ADLS events and engagement with the profession there, such as the recent, very well-attended Christchurch Lawyers’ Lunch.

“Nowadays, what you don’t get so much of is collegiality” he says. “When I was a young lawyer, you had to walk down to the Land Transfer Office or the Companies Office to look up titles and records, or visit the bank to do settlements, and you’d see all the other young lawyers there. Today, everything is done by computer from your office – often, you’ve never even met the person on the other end of the phone.”

“When I saw ADLS becoming more involved in the South Island, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and stand for Council. I really enjoy the people and the events, and I think ADLS is doing a good job of standing up for lawyer-members throughout New Zealand.”

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