Rising Stars 2021

The new decade started off with a bang – but not quite the bang people were expecting as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe early in 2020, transforming the way the world operated.

This was no less true for New Zealand’s legal industry. When the country was placed under Alert Level 4 lockdown in March 2020, courts were pushed to go virtual, adopting audio-visual link technology and electronic documents in proceedings. Capital raisings became common transactions, as did sales and acquisitions. Moreover, pandemic-prompted changes to operations altered the landscape of employment law.

In spite of these obstacles, many young lawyers rose magnificently to the challenge, working together with their organisations to deliver strongly in 2020.

Service delivery in remote work

While COVID-19 restrictions gradually eased in New Zealand, the pandemic essentially defined 2020, and adaptability to COVID-19-driven changes in work arrangements proved crucial to the measure of performance.

Lawyers, both those working in-house and those operating from within law firms, had to adapt to remote work, providing advice to clients from behind computer screens. They faced the challenge of delivering services effectively without being able to meet in person. Lawyers’ comfort level in using technology to achieve their ends became key to how well they could, for instance, represent in court, especially in the face of client concerns.

“The legal profession and the courts' agile response with new technologies and adapting to virtual hearings, electronic filings, and witnessing has made day-to-day working practice – beyond the lockdown – more efficient and sustainable and is a significant change for the better,” says Melissa Hammer, a litigator at Anderson Lloyd and one of this year’s Rising Stars. “The remote work setup had many benefits – particularly more time in the day with less travel and distractions.”

While Hammer acknowledges the reality of ‘Zoom fatigue’ and the difficulty of shifting from work to home life, she believes that many practitioners benefited from the increased flexibility and the lifting of the stigma around remote work.

While some had to adjust to remote work on the fly, there were also those who made the shift more easily, having already trialled working from home to some extent. One example was Rising Star Luke Bowers, a senior associate at Chapman Tripp, who had been working primarily from a home office in Hamilton since 2018.

Nonetheless, the necessity of remote work created a new obstacle for those who were just making strides in their careers, such as Rising Star Mary Rozeboom, who joined independent trustee company Perpetual Guardian right as the pandemic hit in March 2020.

“No one expected a new starter to come on board and have to contend with COVID-19 lockdown and the restrictions of Level 3,” says Theresa Donnelly, legal services manager at Perpetual Guardian. “While Mary had the full support of the team, there was a lot she simply had to work out for herself.”

COVID-19’s industry impacts

Over the past year, the pandemic crippled economies all over the world, and virtually no sector was safe from its effects. As a result, many companies have had to scale back their operations and have needed top-notch legal advice to carefully navigate employment agreements.

In-house employment lawyer Anna Nathu, one of this year’s Rising Stars, works with Air New Zealand’s pilot management team as workplace relations advisor. Among her responsibilities in 2020 was to help the airline respond to the crisis quickly while still meeting its obligations with union partners. During this time, she saw heightened collaboration amongst employment lawyers.

“There was a positive level of information-sharing across the profession as the pandemic response unfolded,” Nathu says. “Employment lawyers around the country were considering and advising on similar questions in various contexts. It seemed to me that the profession was quick to exchange ideas and help each other out.”

In-house counsel also found themselves having to step up their game as more than legal advisors.

“As a legal team supporting our business in a fast-evolving situation, we had to guide colleagues while keeping a cool head and focusing on the legal issues,” says Kristy Redfern, GC and company secretary at AIA New Zealand. “We were integral in the business response to the pandemic, advising our board, supporting the industry response, and keeping our regulators updated on our response and emerging issues.”

For lawyers in private practice, expertise in employment law also played a role in a number of significant deals in 2020. For instance, when global firm DLA Piper advised media giant Discovery on its acquisition of MediaWorks’ TV business, the firm called on employment law specialist Julia MacGibbon, one of this year’s Rising Stars, to conduct the necessary employment due diligence.

Scaling back has also meant divestment for some companies, which helped to boost M&A activity starting in the second half of 2020. Many firms stepped up their work in the commercial space in this time, in many cases completing transactions while coordinating with clients from home. International experience was valuable as well, as there were many cross-border deals on the table last year.

The new landscape for law in 2021

While New Zealand has returned to a semblance of normalcy, the landscape of the legal industry has undeniably changed. Thus, the support lawyers have extended to one another continues to be valuable.

“We checked in on each other regularly, not only to keep across and on top of work priorities, but also informally for a coffee or chat,” Redfern says. “It was great to have the benefit of a wide support network, both internally and externally, to discuss and resolve common issues and manage

the workload. We remain optimistic for 2021 with the vaccine roll-out and the continued containment of the virus in New Zealand; however, we expect there to be continued economic challenges for some.”

Nathu echoes the opinion that the developments in COVID-19 vaccination will impact the profession this year. “I predict that health and safety will be front of mind for many employers in 2021, from issues around mental health to safe work environments for increasingly remote workforces and the implications of being – or not being – vaccinated for COVID-19,” she says.

Meanwhile, Rising Star Ed McGimpsey, a senior associate at Buddle Findlay, has observed how New Zealand’s containment of COVID-19 has spurred increased demand in some practice areas.

“I think 2021 will be a busy year,” he says. “In my area – construction and projects – there seems to be strong appetite to get on with projects and make the most of the unique position that New Zealand finds itself in. More generally, I hope that firms will continue to embrace and lock in the progress we have made with new technology and flexible working arrangements.”

As we head into a new year, NZ Lawyer celebrates 39 young lawyers who, early in their careers, have grasped the opportunity to stand out amongst their peers. In a time when training became a difficult prospect, they took initiative to either educate themselves or to mentor others. They also adapted to technology to continue to deliver excellent service to clients despite being unable to meet in person.

These 39 young lawyers have received the admiration of their fellows in the field, making them worthy of recognition by the greater industry. Read on to find out which young New Zealand lawyers are ready to take the world by storm.


Rising Stars 2021

  • Alastair Espie
    Senior associate, Duncan Cotterill
  • Alice Wood
    Legal counsel, Kiwibank
  • Anna Nathu
    Senior workplace relations manager, pilots Air New Zealand
  • Brad Ward
    Senior associate, Bell Gully
  • Caleb Hensman
    Partner, Russell McVeagh
  • Charlotte Evans
    Associate, Dentons Kensington Swan
  • Chris Jury
    Employment relations specialist, Canterbury and West Coast District Health Boards
  • Ed McGimpsey
    Senior associate, Buddle Findlay
  • Hayden Roberts
    Senior associate, Bell Gully
  • Holly Hill
    Partner, MinterEllisonRuddWatts
  • Jeremy Jones
    Legal counsel, AIA New Zealand
  • Julia MacGibbon
    Senior associate, DLA Piper
  • Kate Tidbury
    Senior associate, Simpson Grierson
  • Ling Yan Pang
    Senior associate, Banking and Finance, Russell McVeagh
  • Louise Trevena Downing
    Associate, Dentons Kensington Swan
  • Luke Bowers
    Senior associate, Chapman Tripp
  • Mary Rozeboom
    Solicitor, Perpetual Guardian
  • Matthew Morgan
    Legal business partner, Spark
  • Matthew Prendergast
    Senior associate, Simpson Grierson
  • Melissa Hammer
    Senior associate, Anderson Lloyd
  • Morgan Evans
    Solicitor, Buddle Findlay
  • Natasha Cannon
    Senior associate, Wotton + Kearney
  • Olivia Lund
    Partner, Duncan Cotterill
  • Olivia Welsh
    Senior associate, Anthony Harper
  • Rachel Brown
    Senior associate, Anderson Lloyd
  • Rosa Winter
    Senior lawyer, Friends of the Earth
  • Sam Holden
    Senior associate, Chapman Tripp
  • Simon Davies-Colley
    Director, WRMK Lawyers
  • Tom Cleary
    Senior associate, Chapman Tripp
  • Tom Gillespie
    Senior associate, Russell McVeagh
  • Tom McLaughlin
    Senior associate, Dentons Kensington Swan


In November, NZ Lawyer invited law firms and in-house legal teams to nominate outstanding young professionals in the New Zealand legal industry for the second annual Rising Stars list. Nominees had to be age 35 or under (as of 31 January) and must have shown leadership qualities and recorded significant achievements early in their careers. To ensure the focus remains on emerging talent, past winners were not eligible to enter again. The NZ Lawyer team asked for submissions to be supported with both qualitative and quantitative data where possible.

The team received nominations from across the board, including top-tier law firms and the in-house legal departments of leading companies. The team evaluated more than 80 high-quality submissions from specialists in a variety of practice areas, including employment and corporate law, and considered the recommendations made by their superiors and colleagues. After examining each nominee’s leadership and achievements, the team whittled down the list to the 39 most promising young lawyers in New Zealand’s legal industry.