Ian Ross has been part of our team for the past six years following our acquisition of Ross & Whitney in 2014. He chose to wind down a long and successful legal career as a consultant at AD. On the 31st of March 2020, Ian will commit to his retirement on a full-time basis. Before he goes, we sat down with him to try to absorb some pearls of wisdom and glean some interesting tales from nearly fifty years of practising law. Ian delivered on both counts.
Learning how to think
Typically understated, Ian describes himself as a ‘hard-working’ student alluding to the effort required to achieve his stellar qualifications. He gained an honours law degree from the University of Auckland, under the mentorship of then law school dean, Professor Jack Northey. He then went on to obtain a much-coveted Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) from Oxford University.
This world-renowned graduate course is designed for outstanding law students but it’s not what Ian originally left home for. He was initially accepted by the London School of Economics. Where he planned to write a thesis in taxation and trade union law for a doctorate. However, a lack of supervision saw him spending more time enjoying London’s pubs and its arts scene than studying. When he admitted as much to his mentor Jack Northey (back in New Zealand), Jack – who was already very much invested in Ian’s education – refused to let him sit on his laurels. Before he knew it, an interview at Wadham College, Oxford was arranged and so Ian’s legal career was off to a flying start.
Ian credits his two years at Oxford for teaching him how to think. He reflects that nobody can know everything about the law but a good law school will turn out great thinkers who can recognise what they need to know and have the skills to find it. Mixing with some of the world’s most brilliant legal minds was also hugely beneficial in developing his own.
A legal legacy
Over the years, many clients have become close personal friends. Ian gains great satisfaction from the contribution he’s been able to make to their lives. Sometimes acting for three and once even four generations of one family. He takes great delight when young people choose to work with him. Even admitting to us that maybe he was ‘doing something right’.
When Ian started practising, lawyers were much more generalist. They turned their hands to just about any aspect of the law. Although Ian has always avoided court and the stresses of matrimonial and criminal work. He preferred to have the time for careful consideration before advising his clients. One client, he counts amongst his closest friends, made a speech at his 75th birthday party. He described Ian as erudite, not sacrificing a thorough, considered approach for speed. It’s that stance which, in Ian’s own words, has enabled him to ‘be usually right, give good advice and help clients to achieve success in their chosen fields.’
On one occasion, however, speed was of the essence. As the lawyer for a property owner based overseas, Ian had his client’s tenant – who owed a great deal of rent, detained by bailiffs. He was unceremoniously extracted from his farewell party, minus jacket and coat. He had planned to abscond leaving behind substantial debts and probably would have done so had he not made the mistake of writing to his absent landlord to advise him he had no intention of paying. Needless to say, the rogue tenant paid the rent arrears in full. He was released within 24 hours.
Taking an overview of Ian’s career, it is his clients and their success that has been the main driver. He comes from a family of noted professionals who excelled in business. But rather than pursue a high profile career, he preferred to remain under the radar. His measure of success is that of his clients.
What his colleagues say
His former business partner describes Ian as follows:
Ian is a person of the highest integrity who cares deeply about people and ensuring they are treated fairly. He has devoted his career to helping people through their legal issues with a calm and reassuring manner backed by an extraordinary ability to see the heart of the problem. Ian has a real feel for the law, a tremendous intellect and breadth of knowledge which has been invaluable to his clients. He has a long record of achieving successful outcomes which have been enormously appreciated by his clients. Many have been very loyal supporters over the years.
As much as his legal expertise, Ian’s deep humanity and understanding of the human condition, with all its messy frailties and imperfections which can often muddy the waters of legal disputes, have shone through. He is not judgemental but is perceptive which leads to wise and practical guidance appropriate to the circumstances. It has been an absolute privilege to have worked with Ian for over thirty years. He is a man you can always depend on in difficult times and has been a tremendously valued friend and mentor to me and countless others over a long and honourable career.
Ian reflects that there was never an argument between them in all the years they worked together, even though it wasn’t plain sailing at all times. Ian and Ken enjoyed the best of partnerships and went on to build their successful practice over 20 years. They remain close friends.
AlexanderDorrington expanded its business through the acquisition of Ross & Whitney but the unexpected bonus was the addition of a most supportive colleague.
Our directors had this to say about Ian:
We have thoroughly enjoyed having Ian at AD. Everyone appreciates his caring manner. In an era when lawyers are so busy trying to keep up with the many demands of modern practice, Ian always made time for his clients. He sometimes attended auctions with them, visited them on their farms, or went to their homes if they were unwell. It is a testament to Ian’s character and his skills as a lawyer, that he has maintained lifelong friendships with both his clients and his colleagues. Our asset planning team has found him to be a tremendous support. Our team will miss him but we look forward to continuing to keep in touch with Ian and his wife outside of work.
Debra Dorrington, Denise Marsden and Jourdan Griffin.
The AlexanderDorrington experience
Since joining AD, Ian has worked very closely with our Senior Legal Executive Megan Mischewski, whom he describes as ‘exceptional’. The transition from running his firm to being part of ours was an easy one on both sides. Even more so knowing now that he can retire leaving his clients in the hands of ‘extremely good lawyers’.
Ian reflects on changes in legal practice throughout his career. Greater specialisation has gone hand-in-hand with a transition of law from a profession to a business. On the downside, delivering legal advice has become a more transactional commercial process. The traditional concept of the family lawyer is disappearing. At AD we take time to learn every client’s story. We need to understand what success in engaging us means to them. However, as a rule, our lawyers become less personally engaged in their lives. This has both negative and positive outcomes.
Ian considers himself to have been fortunate to have practised in an era when you could make a good living without the stresses of running an SME business. He recognizes the role of a good Practice Manager as being pivotal to the structure of today’s law firms. He has high praise for Rachael Stevenson. Not just for the way in which she runs AD’s business but for the loyal staff culture she has been instrumental in nurturing.
Ian wholeheartedly recommends a gradual disengagement for lawyers considering retirement. He’s been working on a part-time basis for AD for some time now. He knows he will miss coming to work, however. To continue providing his expertise to the community, Ian plans to offer pro-bono services to Citizens Advice Bureau. Outside of that, he has plenty to keep him busy with a large family, including five grandsons. Ian and his wife have plans for a boating holiday on the canals of Burgundy over the European summer.
We wish him all the very best with the next phase of his life journey.