Extreme downsizing foretaste of growth for legal firm

Last updated 05:00 11/12/2012
Buddle Findlay partner Rachel Dunningham

LEGAL SUCCESS: Buddle Findlay partner Rachel Dunningham inside the firm's temporary offices in St Asaph Street. Buddle Findlay has been providing crucial legal services in support of the Christchurch rebuild as well as major irrigation schemes in the region.

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When it comes to extreme downsizing, Buddle Findlay is in a league of its own.

Prior to the February 22 2011 earthquake, the firm of lawyers occupied almost two floors of the now almost demolished Clarendon Tower.

However, with suitable office space at a premium after the big shake, Buddle Findlay partner Mark Odlin says the company was forced to move into far more modest accommodation to put it mildly.

"After a week riding around the city looking for possible temporary premises and thanks to family connections I was able to locate a building in Wrights Rd in Upper Riccarton. We went from having more than 1000 square metres to just 100 square metres so it was pretty cramped," he says.

With office space secured, the next task was to find the necessary computers and other IT equipment to replace all the equipment now stranded in the stricken high rise. Help was at hand courtesy of Buddle Findlay's office in

Wellington whose staff soon had replacement equipment on its way south. As a result, the Christchurch branch was back working the Monday after the earthquake albeit with very little elbow room.

"We are very proud of what we achieved in such a short space of time and under such difficult circumstances."

Fellow firm partner Rachel Dunningham says despite the uncertain economic outlook immediately after February 22, the firm made a decision to retain all its staff. She says this decision has been vindicated.

"Our staff have responded magnificently."

The law firm has since moved to slightly less cramped premises in St Asaph St. The partners were able to secure a lease on a near-new building on the edge of the red zone which was vacant. Following a speedy fit-out, staff were able to move in.

Staff won't have much time to get used to their latest digs though as next year Buddle Findlay will move in to a brand new building in Victoria Street.

"That will be really exciting for us," says Dunningham.

The new premises will be designed with the new work environment the legal profession has had to adopt in the post quake Christchurch, says Odlin.

"The earthquakes have changed forever how we work as an industry. The city's law firms are spread throughout Christchurch now so whereas there was much more face to face contact prior to February 22 these days much more interfirm communication is done remotely via email and people are out in their cars more as well."

He adds: The legal industry thrives on change so from our perspective there has been a lot of positive change."

Deciding to make their home permanently in the new central city fits in well with Buddle Findlay's client base too, says Dunningham.

"We have always seen ourselves back in the central city as we want to be part of the CBD. We are property and resource management law specialists and there is a lot happening here and a lot more will be happening in the coming years. It is far better to be here than in the suburbs as this is where the centre of the re-building process is," says Dunningham.

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Buddle Findlay is closely involved in helping implement the central city redevelopment blueprint.

"We were contacted by CERA and this led to us providing legal services regarding the compulsory property acquisition process arising from the red zoning of thousands of houses and businesses," says Odlin.

That work, combined with related work for the Christchurch City and Selwyn District Councils has been very important to the firm, says Dunningham, as it has ensured a steady and growing flow of work. As a result, Buddle Findlay has been able to boost staff numbers from 43 before to February 22 quake to 50 today. Dunningham and Odlin expect to take on more staff in the coming years as their involvement in the central city rebuild grows.

The volume of work coming from their private sector corporate clients is also showing strong signs of recovery and expansion which she says also relates in part to the rebuilding programme now gathering some momentum.

"There is years of commercial property work ahead of us and that is a very good sign for the region. It is all hugely positive," says Dunningham.

Unlike big legal firms in Auckland and Wellington, Buddle Findlay's Christchurch operation reflects the fact that Canterbury's economy is more reliant on regional activity, such as farming and tourism than its North Island counterparts, says Dunningham.

"The rural sector also drives a lot of our work. As an example we have been closely involved in the Central Plains

Water irrigation scheme. We successfully steered it through the resource consent application process. Even more significantly we were able to achieve this for our client without the original decision going to hearings in the Environment Court. That has been very rewarding for us."

Vision Statement:

To be the leading national law firm in the South Island.

Past Success:

Getting the Central Plains Irrigation scheme consented despite a tight budget and significant opposition.

Future Hope:

We will all be more lateral in our thinking as we realise we don't have to do things in the old way.

Greatest Moment:

All our staff being together, safe, and supporting each other in new premises less than a week after the February earthquake.

- The Press

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