Hot List lawyer: “I still get nervous”

He’s the chairman of one of New Zealand’s largest firms and has acted on massive mergers including for franchiser Foodstuffs, but this dealmaker admits to still getting the jitters

DLA Phillips Fox chairman and partner Martin Wiseman earned his well-deserved spot on the NZ Lawyer magazine’s Hot List thanks to his extensive experience working on some of the country’s largest deals.

When retail giant Foodstuffs, franchiser of PAK’nSAVE and other well-known grocery brands, went shopping for a dealmaker last year, Wiseman was the obvious choice.

After acting for the Foodstuffs entities for many years, he was selected as the lead adviser to the merger parties on a deal that saw Foodstuffs Wellington – an industrial and provident society – and Foodstuffs Auckland, a company, create a merged cooperative with annual revenues of greater than $6 billion.

And the lawyer’s success has been duly noted.

From 2005 to 2014, he was named by Chambers Global as a leader in Corporate/Commercial; in 2006 and 2007 he was named by Asialaw Leading Lawyers as a leader in Corporate Law, and in 2005 and 2006 he was named by Economy and International Financial Law Review as a leading insolvency and restructuring professional in the world following a peer review selection process.

But perhaps surprisingly, modest Wiseman admits he still “gets nervous” about how he’s going to handle a new matter.

“I benefitted from a great apprenticeship, a steady flow of interesting matters and the opportunity to run them myself, but knowing guidance and help were close at hand. I also didn’t get too specialised too soon,” he told NZ Lawyer.  “As a result over the years I worked in a range of areas including insolvency, banking & finance, general commercial, corporate, M&A and even some competition law. That diversity gave me a good range of experience with different types of clients which now makes managing matters and clients easier.”

However, it was never Wiseman’s passion or plan to become a lawyer during his high school years.

Rather, he says having completed seventh form it was just assumed he’d go to university, and he chose a law degree “without really thinking too much – as you do when you’re just 17”.

But it was when he started working in law after graduating that the profession really captured his interest. He was lucky enough to be mentored by one of New Zealand’s leading insolvency and restructuring lawyers, Mike Whale, who took an interest in Wiseman’s career.

“[He] drilled into me disciplines that I naturally lacked, like a focus on attention to detail and clarity of thought,” he says.

Wiseman hasn’t looked back since, and has enjoyed a diverse legal career that has, at times, included some unexpected twists.

He fondly remembers once appearing in the old Privy Council in Downing Street as instructing solicitor to Jim Farmer QC in a competition matter.

“That evening we had dinner with (now) Lord Sumption and his family (and dog) at his big old admiralty house in Greenwich and drank lots of, no doubt very expensive, French wine,” he recounts.
Nowadays Wiseman likes nothing better than to spend his downtime with his wife and four children, and get out for a swim, bike ride or run every day to keep the mind “sharp”.

He’s also a trustee of the Starship Foundation, which raises money for the national children’s hospital Starship.

“If you have kids, chances are you know Starship Hospital. Its need for funding is effectively without limit so I do what I can as a trustee of the foundation to help.”

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