LawFuel’s Lawyer of the Year is one of the country’s leading commercial lawyers and its leading Supreme Court appellate counsel. Receiving the prestigious Staedtler exclusive pen from sponsor Staedtler, David Goddard was interviewed by lawyer and journalist Sasha Borissenko.
Sasha Borissenko – Wellington is in David Goddard QC’s bones, he says. Despite a job that demands he regularly travel to meet with countries of every shape and size, he’d never dream of living anywhere else.
But in the case of pursuing a career in law, David wasn’t initially sold on the idea. Enrolling at university at the tender age of 16, law seemed abstract and frankly, irrelevant. “You need context and life experience to truly understand the set of rules, principles and institutions that are designed to enable people to live.”
He wasn’t entirely foreign to the industry. David’s grandparents hailed from Poland and were lawyers before they emigrated to New Zealand, in fact.
“My grandmother was a woman well before her time, she was quite remarkable.” And much of his youth was spent roaming newsrooms while his lawyer father discussed potential liability over defamation claims.
“Doomed” to be a Lawyer
“My dad covered defamation trials, conspiracy cases against unions, you name it. Over the years I met all the colourful and interesting people you’d expect.”
Because of his late mother, a French and Latin teacher, David first ventured in the direction of linguistics and physics, but, “having a family entrenched in law, I suppose I was doomed to be a lawyer. It was only a matter of time before I succumbed to the calling. Either that or due to a lack of imagination”.
And so it was. Before he completed his undergraduate degree, he applied for a Rhode Scholarship on a whim, only to get it unexpectedly. It was at Oxford that he fell in love with the law.
He talks fondly of having to defend his essay topic around “why do we have the law of contract” to a group of tutors. “The situation was quite different to learning about your standard rules around offer and acceptance. I got to explore my own wild and fantastical theories so it’s no wonder I had the most wonderful time.
“The experience really changed my outlook where I originally saw a law degree as being a necessary evil in order to practice.”
Although David loved academia, he always wanted to practice in New Zealand.
“I think it’s really good to see how the law works in practice and see its impact on people, countries, institutions, and authorities. It was wonderful to be surrounded by truly clever people and explore the law in a theoretical sense, but for me, I thought it would be better to spend some time playing the game rather than sitting on the side-lines.”
Pining for a Wellington summer, David came home for what was a beautiful holiday in 1988, and there hasn’t been one quite like it in 20 years, he says. He was wined and dined by all the top firms, but it was a casual meeting at the Chapman Tripp law library that really did it for him, he says.
“And on that note I feel very sad about how few books law firms have these days”.
Having been in practice for just three months, he was given the chance to weigh in on the Companies Bill reforms in the early nineties under Jack Hodder and Sian Elias, “despite knowing very little about company law, and drafting come to think of it. “It was huge leap of faith on their part”.
Draft work led to greater opportunities working for the Law Commission, Treasury, and the Solicitor General of Jamaica.
“He was at a conference in Auckland in 1990 and needed someone with company law reform drafting experience to help with work for the World Bank. Of course I said yes.” He was appointed as Partner at just 28.
Having the ‘Yes’ Mentality
David’s “yes” mentality or modus operandi of sorts, is the key to what has been a truly fruitful career.
In the international private law space David’s provided policy advice on commercial law and governance issues to governments and intergovernmental organisations in Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Niue, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Tonga and Vietnam. He’s drafted companies legislation for Sri Lanka, Niue and Samoa.
“I’m just a very curious person . . “
He’s represented the New Zealand Government at a number of meetings of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, and in negotiations with Australia on a number of legal coordination initiatives.
“I’m just a very curious person. I’m fascinated how a legal system can be created and the relationship between good functioning legal systems and prosperous societies. Compare countries where their legal system doesn’t work – fairness, freedom, and prosperity is compromised.”
Travelling the globe has made up just a fraction of David’s practice, where David’s true calling lies in appellate advocacy before the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, he says.
“I really enjoy oral advocacy and cross examination, particularly of experienced witnesses. I love working with experts to try and understand and become briefly sufficient/familiar with a subject in order to examine another party.”
Panel of Intellectuals
It’s the understanding of expert evidence, the facts, and the law, and then presenting that information in a story-like manner to a panel of intellectuals that he finds hugely rewarding.
“It’s a more analytical approach and less dramatic and less unpredictable than an ordinary trial. I don’t really like encountering the unexpected.” The theme of learning, and presenting a hypothesis in an intimate setting isn’t too dissimilar to David’s time at Oxford, really. “Yes I suppose that’s very much the case. I’ve never really thought about it that way.”
“. . . the only way you’re going to find out what works for you is by doing different things.”
Having been appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2003, the question remains though, does David ever sleep? “I suppose I’ve put a huge amount of time into my career, but if you’re curious about how the world works, and as long as you are excited about what you are doing you can get through any situation, and despite very little sleep, mind.
The thing is, people like to work with people who are enthusiastic and who have an open mind. I never had a fixed view of what I wanted my career to look like, I’ve gone where the wind has taken me. And the only way you’re going to find out what works for you is by doing different things.”
The stress is of course not for everyone, he concedes. “I always get quite stressed and sleep quite badly leading up to a hearing. But there’s a certain amount of adrenalin needed to complete oral advocacy to a high standard.”
There’s always exercise, that always helps things, he says. “I’m one of those hideous individuals that runs every day.
And lest of all one mustn’t forget his partner in crime, Meredith Connell litigation Partner Liesle Theron.
“Having a partner who’s in the same game makes things easier. She understands the stresses and she’s remarkably supportive. I don’t deserve her.”
The Jury’s Out
The father of six, with two children under 10, ultimately attributes his sanity to his family, and their love of his cooking, particularly his ‘world famous’ risotto.
So where to from here?
There’s always the drive to find a better balance between work and other creative ventures, David says. “I haven’t written in what seems to be far too long. We’ll see. The jury is still out.”