Michael Wolfe

Partner, Lane Neave
Business and Law, 1979

Michael Wolfe

Legal Legacy.

Michael Wolfe has been a lawyer his entire working life. From his early days in the crown prosecutor's office to 10 years as Managing Partner of Lane Neave, law is a career he has thoroughly enjoyed. Michael says it’s the team aspect of the job - and the act of serving others’ interests first that he has enjoyed most. “Law is a job which sees people put a lot of trust and confidence in you. I think that’s a real privilege and an honour from a professional point of view.” 

Tell us about being managing partner of Lane Neave.

It’s a role that takes you out of the normal practice of law and pulls you into a position where you’re managing people and a business. I’ve had that role for most of the last 10 years. I passed on the baton shortly before my wife and I relocated to Auckland where the firm is expanding. My role is to drive new business in the commercial property space.

How has your career unfolded?

I've been a lawyer all of my life. I spent my first two years in the crown prosecutor's office in Napier. I also worked in general practice there and I thoroughly enjoyed that period of my life. Since then I have essentially been with the same firm in its various iterations. So it's been quite a singular vocation for me. I've really enjoyed it. It's been a wonderful career.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

For me it's about being part of a team. It's also a job that sees people put a lot of trust and confidence in you. I think that’s a real privilege as well as a responsibility from a professional point of view.

What sort of personal characteristics do you need in your career?

You have to approach your job professionally and respect the ethics and rules that guide our profession. And you've got to put your clients and your firm above your own interests. Things can go terribly wrong if you don't get that right. Integrity, honesty, transparency – those are some of the qualities you need to succeed in practice.

Any recollections of UC from back in the day?

When I began at UC in 1974 the Law School had just shifted out to the Ilam campus. So I had the pleasure of studying Law at Ilam and English and Sociology at the original Arts Centre campus. I think it's just reopened now for UC Music, which is wonderful. It's fantastic to see students back in the city centre.

How does Ilam compare, now and then?

When I go to the Ilam campus now it's just amazing. When I began it was a concrete jungle. But now, the trees have grown up, the gardens are fantastic. It's a very settled and peaceful place, and a great place to learn I'm sure.

Do you have much interaction with UC students today?

About 60% of our qualified staff have been trained at UC, and we normally draw all of our summer clerks and graduates from Canterbury. That's not exclusive, it's just natural to draw from the local catchment.

What do these new students bring to the table?

They bring a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm. When I went through university it was just about passing, getting your degree and getting a job. These days that attitude wouldn't get you through the front door. The quality of graduates that we see now is amazing. They’re academically qualified but also well-rounded members of the community, with strong values. Graduates are coming into law a whole lot more prepared for a career. And that's credit to the universities that train them.

Beyond work, what other interests keep you busy?

I used to be a passionate sportsman but now I've become very interested in the visual arts. My wife and I often go to contemporary art openings. For me, it's a whole new world. I think art is an essential part of every society. It enhances our thinking and our environment.

You’re off on some travels soon as well?

I love travel and finding interesting locations to visit. We’re heading off to Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo which has a fascinating history, and some dangers too! It's over 7800 square kilometers of jungle which is increasingly rare in Africa today. It's a wonderful opportunity to discover this natural habitat and by visiting we are, in a small way, supporting the park and its future.

Do you think it's important to have interests beyond your career?

I think it's essential. I love law and I've loved my career, but I don't want it to be all that I've ever done. I'm looking forward to doing something different. That's partly why we moved to Auckland. The world is full of old lawyers and I don't really want to be one.

What wisdom would you share with young people today?

I'd be just as interested in what they have to tell me, to be honest! But I think I would tell them not to embark on a career for material reasons only. Choose a life that will enrich your own experience. Be ethical in the decisions you make, and take much better care of the environment than my generation has done.