By the book

Gradually easing towards semi-retirement after almost 50 years in law.

Gradually easing towards semi-retirement after almost 50 years in law.

EASING OFF: Gordon Webb of Nolans Gisborne Lawyers takes a moment from the consultancy role he has moved into to talk to the Weekender. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell

Gisborne lawyer Gordon Webb talks to Mark Peters about his career of almost 50 years, and looks ahead to life after law practice.

After close to half a century in law, Gordon Webb is not quite ready to fully retire yet. He is easing towards semi-retirement but is in no rush. It’s not that he has got a Mainland cheese, good-things-take-time, thing going on. It’s more that he enjoys his work and plans to spend the next couple of years carrying on in his profession while gradually easing off and handing over his clients to others to look after.

“You want to see the clients whose work you might have done for many years are looked after, so they are not left in the lurch,” he says.

“It’s a fairer way to go about it.”

Meanwhile, he has eased into a consultancy capacity with Nolans Gisborne Lawyers which is where he has worked since 1998, having started with Nolan and Skeet in 1980.

Originally from Hastings, Gordon’s family had been horticultural croppers and nurserymen since the late 1800s. His mother’s father was a grocer in Hastings.

“Mum and Dad lived in the Mahora suburb of Hastings. Mum had worked in the accountants’ office where Dad was a senior clerk. After Dad returned from the war the romance blossomed. They married in 1948. They had four children. I was number two.”

Taking up law seemed a logical choice, he says.

“Dad was an accountant, an older brother did accountancy, my uncle and a couple of cousins were accountants.

“Accountancy didn’t appeal to me. I hadn’t done science at high school, so that shut a few doors.”

When Gordon decided to take up law rather than accountancy his parents carted him around to a couple of lawyers in Hastings so he could get an idea of his future career, he says.

“I couldn’t have been put off because in 1970 I set off for Wellington as a fresher law student.”

The “usual fun and frivolity” was mixed in with his six years of study.

“Victoria University law school was an exciting place to be at. It was centred on the old Hunter Building, a brick ivy-clad icon. Students mixed and shared, solved problems and socialised. It had a strong academic faculty of teaching staff.”

Among his lecturers, tutors and mentors was Terence Arnold who recently became a Supreme Court judge.

Approaching financial destitution by his third year, and feeling the need to get some hands-on legal work, he managed to land a law clerk’s job with a downtown lawyer, Shirley Smith.

“I worked several hours a day — initially on filing and some drafting. Shirley’s clients were predominantly female who needed family law assistance. She was a staunch feminist and had retained her maiden name. This was the age of Germaine Greer.”

He worked there for four-and-a-half years. Having been admitted as a solicitor in 1975 of the then Supreme Court, he became a full-time staff solicitor.

“In the previous year Shirley’s husband, Bill Sutch, was arrested on charges of passing information under the Official Secrets Act. It was a significant trial and one that generated a lot of public interest, not to mention stress to the family,” says Gordon.

When the jury accepted the Crown had not proved he handed anything over to Russian agents, Dr Sutch was found not guilty.

“The Security Intelligence Service’s performance during the investigation was inept and even today that organisation doesn’t inspire me with much confidence.”

In 1976, Gordon and friends left New Zealand to embark on a five-year OE.

“A lot of the time was spent working in and around London — most notably for a large Vauxhall motor vehicle dealership on the finance side.”

The lure of a New Zealand summer was strong, though, he says.

“I returned to Hastings. Frantic job applications led to a trip to Gisborne and an offer of employment, and I started at Nolan and Skeet in January 1980.”

He began practising in commercial law, property transactions and work that involved farming clients.

“Because we were a Crown solicitors’ office we had a lot of court work over the years. We acted for several insurance companies which meant there was a lot of litigation work.”

His career has brought him in contact with some colourful characters, he says.

“One chap built a structure he lived in on the beach. He didn’t have a consent so he was prosecuted.”

Gordon also dealt with native tree poachers. Had they not been prosecuted the way would be left open for others to do the same, he says.

“It’s up to you to bring those who transgress to heel. As a lawyer you have to be impartial, you have to be dispassionate about what you’re doing and be sure you’re getting the best possible result for your client.”

When he finally decides to bow out of law, travel and visiting his and his wife Wendy’s two children is on the cards. As a keen gardener, grower of his own vegetables and prize-winning chrysanthemum cultivator in the Webb tradition, he will also have more time to get his hands into the earth.

Gisborne lawyer Gordon Webb talks to Mark Peters about his career of almost 50 years, and looks ahead to life after law practice.

After close to half a century in law, Gordon Webb is not quite ready to fully retire yet. He is easing towards semi-retirement but is in no rush. It’s not that he has got a Mainland cheese, good-things-take-time, thing going on. It’s more that he enjoys his work and plans to spend the next couple of years carrying on in his profession while gradually easing off and handing over his clients to others to look after.

“You want to see the clients whose work you might have done for many years are looked after, so they are not left in the lurch,” he says.

“It’s a fairer way to go about it.”

Meanwhile, he has eased into a consultancy capacity with Nolans Gisborne Lawyers which is where he has worked since 1998, having started with Nolan and Skeet in 1980.

Originally from Hastings, Gordon’s family had been horticultural croppers and nurserymen since the late 1800s. His mother’s father was a grocer in Hastings.

“Mum and Dad lived in the Mahora suburb of Hastings. Mum had worked in the accountants’ office where Dad was a senior clerk. After Dad returned from the war the romance blossomed. They married in 1948. They had four children. I was number two.”

Taking up law seemed a logical choice, he says.

“Dad was an accountant, an older brother did accountancy, my uncle and a couple of cousins were accountants.

“Accountancy didn’t appeal to me. I hadn’t done science at high school, so that shut a few doors.”

When Gordon decided to take up law rather than accountancy his parents carted him around to a couple of lawyers in Hastings so he could get an idea of his future career, he says.

“I couldn’t have been put off because in 1970 I set off for Wellington as a fresher law student.”

The “usual fun and frivolity” was mixed in with his six years of study.

“Victoria University law school was an exciting place to be at. It was centred on the old Hunter Building, a brick ivy-clad icon. Students mixed and shared, solved problems and socialised. It had a strong academic faculty of teaching staff.”

Among his lecturers, tutors and mentors was Terence Arnold who recently became a Supreme Court judge.

Approaching financial destitution by his third year, and feeling the need to get some hands-on legal work, he managed to land a law clerk’s job with a downtown lawyer, Shirley Smith.

“I worked several hours a day — initially on filing and some drafting. Shirley’s clients were predominantly female who needed family law assistance. She was a staunch feminist and had retained her maiden name. This was the age of Germaine Greer.”

He worked there for four-and-a-half years. Having been admitted as a solicitor in 1975 of the then Supreme Court, he became a full-time staff solicitor.

“In the previous year Shirley’s husband, Bill Sutch, was arrested on charges of passing information under the Official Secrets Act. It was a significant trial and one that generated a lot of public interest, not to mention stress to the family,” says Gordon.

When the jury accepted the Crown had not proved he handed anything over to Russian agents, Dr Sutch was found not guilty.

“The Security Intelligence Service’s performance during the investigation was inept and even today that organisation doesn’t inspire me with much confidence.”

In 1976, Gordon and friends left New Zealand to embark on a five-year OE.

“A lot of the time was spent working in and around London — most notably for a large Vauxhall motor vehicle dealership on the finance side.”

The lure of a New Zealand summer was strong, though, he says.

“I returned to Hastings. Frantic job applications led to a trip to Gisborne and an offer of employment, and I started at Nolan and Skeet in January 1980.”

He began practising in commercial law, property transactions and work that involved farming clients.

“Because we were a Crown solicitors’ office we had a lot of court work over the years. We acted for several insurance companies which meant there was a lot of litigation work.”

His career has brought him in contact with some colourful characters, he says.

“One chap built a structure he lived in on the beach. He didn’t have a consent so he was prosecuted.”

Gordon also dealt with native tree poachers. Had they not been prosecuted the way would be left open for others to do the same, he says.

“It’s up to you to bring those who transgress to heel. As a lawyer you have to be impartial, you have to be dispassionate about what you’re doing and be sure you’re getting the best possible result for your client.”

When he finally decides to bow out of law, travel and visiting his and his wife Wendy’s two children is on the cards. As a keen gardener, grower of his own vegetables and prize-winning chrysanthemum cultivator in the Webb tradition, he will also have more time to get his hands into the earth.

Your email address will not be published. Comments will display after being approved by a staff member. Comments may be edited for clarity.

Rick Finch, Washington - 28 days ago
Editorial constraints surely prevented this bit of Gordon's story reaching the public, but I'm sure Gordon would smile to see the story in print. My wife, Paula, and I encountered Gordon and his mate Mike Kavanaugh as we stood apprehensively in the milling crowd waiting to board a train from Amritsar, India to Lahore, Pakistan. A coup in Pakistan had occurred five days before, and Paula and I were eager to have companionship on our voyage to the west. Gordon performed admirably, living up to his self-proclaimed moniker "Master and Commander", MOST of the time. He always enjoyed opportunities to inject a little humour (or tension?) into the travel situations emerging between Amritsar and Tehran. I share one memorable such event:
After a generally harrowing overnight in Peshawar, awaiting transport to Kabul, Afghanistan, our group of about 15 wanderers found ourselves seated on the floor of a hut on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. Sprinkled among us were turbaned elders clutching their WW1 era Enfield bolt-action rifles, and they were NOT smiling . . . Passport collected for inspection, the "interrogation" began, asking for some details of importance from each traveller. The air of apprehension in the room moved up a notch, this was "serious business". Gordon's turn came after about 10 others had responded, perhaps in somewhat tremulous voice. The Master and Commander spoke confidently, however, when asked his occupation. "Bulldozer driver" was the response. The official seemed to pause a moment to analyse this submission, then thankfully moved on to the remaining prosaic employments - teacher, nurse, doctor, fortunately no lawyer, I suppose.
You'll have to ask Gordon for more examples, such as the taxi drivers or hotel clerks in Tehran . . .

Poll

  • Voting please wait...
    Your vote has been cast. Reloading page...
    Do you support the school children who have been striking for action on climate change?