“We’re a strong team of smart, supportive lawyers,” says Margot Harkness, one of three directors of the law firm Stevens Orchard, which has offices in Nelson and Westport.
“I think we have a lot to offer clients with a broad spectrum of skills and experience in areas that include family law, conveyancing and real estate, commercial law, trust and estate planning, employment issues, mediation and dispute resolution.”
Margot says they deliver a comprehensive service in all aspects of family law. “That’s always been a pretty strong area for the firm,” she says, ticking off topics such as parenting issues, protection orders and family violence, relationship property, and disputes over family estates.
With about a dozen legal and administrative staff, the practice fits comfortably into the small to mid-size category of Nelson and Westport law firms which has distinct advantages, according to fellow director, Tracy Sawtell.
“We are small enough to be agile and able to respond quickly to changing circumstances. And we also have the flexibility and capacity to bring on additional staff when needed.”
The Stevens Orchard team adopts a careful, caring and pragmatic approach, outlining for clients the full pros and cons of the decisions they need to make. Taking a people-focused rather than price-focused approach means the firm also works closely with clients to help keep fees to a realistic level.
At the same time, says Tracy, who brings experience working in Sydney, Adelaide and London, the team likes to think outside the box in search of creative solutions to their clients’ many and varied needs. However, if the only way forward is to go to court, “then we’re not shy about that either,” she adds.
As it happens all the current staff are women but Margot says that’s simply a reflection of the changing face of a profession in which more than half of all law graduates are now female. There have been men on the team before and there is no reason why there won’t be again, she says.
Stevens Orchard prides itself on being a provincial practice with a strong focus on rural matters and believes having the Westport office is hugely advantageous to the wider West Coast community.
The key figure there is the firm’s third director, Jane Duncan, who works from the Westport office where she keeps her finger very much on the rural pulse of the West Coast whether it be farming, fishing, forestry or even mining.
Jane certainly seems to have the right credentials for the job; she grew up on a farm in Wanganui and today lives on a 10-acre lifestyle block with a scattering of cattle, sheep, pigs and hens.
“I’m quite passionate about agriculture,” she says. “My idea when I moved from Wellington to Westport was to try and build this as a rural practice; to create the ‘go-to’ firm for agricultural needs on the West Coast.”
Ten years later she is still doing that, offering similar services to her colleagues in Nelson but with a decidedly rural twist. “I think one of the biggest benefits for people on the coast is the face-to-face contact that comes with our office in Westport.”
Jane says there is a wealth of work on the West Coast and she would love another solicitor or legal executive to join her.