Michael Shanahan is a director at Auckland firm Anderson Creagh Lai, specialising in corporate/commercial law and M&A. He tells us about his impressive family history in the profession and why he’d like to have a deceased Formula One driver over for dinner
NZ Lawyer: What made you decide to become a lawyer?
Michael Shanahan: My family has something of a history in the Law. My great grandfather was a policeman in the pioneering days of the Arrowtown gold rush. My paternal grandfather trained as a lawyer and had a distinguished career in the New Zealand foreign service and three of his five children went on to pursue careers in the law. My father practiced (and still practices) law and as a result I always had a hesitant fascination with the law when I was growing up. I think it’s a profession which you can never really understand until you’re on the inside … by which time it’s usually too late!
How long have you worked with ACL and what brought you to the firm?
I spent about five years practicing with two of ACL’s founders before I went to do my stint working in London. While I was overseas, ACL was established and not long thereafter they invited me to re-join them, which I did in mid-2007. It’s great to work with people whom I’ve known for such a long time, there’s a real depth of collegiality and history amongst the partners and core staff of the firm, which is something we both guard and cherish as a firm.
What’s the strangest case you’ve ever worked on/been involved with?
While with my former NZ employer, we were approached to act for someone in a proposed defamation case against TVNZ and the Police force. The client came to see us in a very irate state and was insistent on urgently issuing proceedings. Upon further investigation it transpired that she had been filmed by a ‘police stop’ style programme driving without a licence and attempting to bribe a police officer who had pulled her car over. The incident aired on national television to her great offence and she felt she had been harmed and defamed as a result. Eventually she grasped the concept of truth being a defence to a claim in defamation, and (mercifully!) the case went nowhere.
If you could invite three people for dinner, dead or alive and excluding family and friends, who would they be and why?
I’d love to spend an evening with Ayrton Senna (the late Brazilian Formula One racing driver), Steve Peat (a British downhill mountain biker of whom I’m a bit of a fan) and Colin McCrae (the late Scottish WRC Raleigh driver). I’m pretty sure a passionate and soulful Brazilian racing car driver, an ageing Yorkshire man who still holds his own at world cup level in a truly young man’s sport, and a mad flying Scotsman would generate some great banter and have some very interesting and entertaining stories to tell about victory and loss.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given (work or personal)?
I had a wonderful mathematics teacher at intermediate school. He often used to say that “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”. It’s simple advice which has wide-ranging application and relevance throughout life. In the practice of law I think it’s important to be as careful and as circumspect as possible (subject obviously to the vagaries and urgencies of each assignment). The law, and the practice of the law, only seem to become increasingly complex and you can ill afford to foot-fault.
Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of work?
I have a range of hobbies and interests, all of which suffer as a result of my career. My main ‘hobby’ is spending time outside of work with my wife and three young children. If there’s any time left over after that I’ll gladly spend it riding a pushbike somewhere, exploring my musical interests, or indulging in a good film or book.
Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t a lawyer, I would be…
All other things being equal, I’d be doing something creative (don’t ask me what!) which took me to lots of different and interesting parts of the world.
What do you think will be single biggest issue facing the litigation space in New Zealand in 2014?
Access to justice continues to be an issue for a lot of people. However, even for sophisticated users of legal services, there is still a widespread perception that the litigation process is overly complex, time-consuming and inherently uncertain. I won’t deign to venture a solution but I’m aware that it’s something which the Bar and Bench are both aware of and concerned to address constructively.
What do you love about your job?
Every day brings a new set of problems and new challenges, so there’s seldom a dull moment. The partners here at ACL have all come out of big firms and we all constantly strive for excellence in our work. We all enjoy a challenge but also thrive on helping people achieve their goals, overcome their own challenges, and solve their problems. And when I’m having a bad day I think back to my days as a builder’s labourer and remind myself that it beats digging holes in the rain!