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Meet Clayton Kimpton, The Law Association’s new CEO

19 Apr 2024

| Author: LawNews

Why did you leave the law?

I’d been an executive chair of Kensington Swan for four terms. I was coming off that and knew I needed a break. It’s reasonably intense, being in those large law firm leadership roles. And the stars sort of aligned when an opportunity came up with NZTE (New Zealand Trade and Enterprise) and MFAT (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade) to take up a role as regional director for Africa, India and the Middle East. This involved reviewing New Zealand’s footprint across agencies and seeing what, from an outsider’s perspective, New Zealand could be doing up there.

Kensington Swan had had an office in Abu Dhabi and I was very familiar with doing business in the Gulf region. And because I wasn’t with MFAT, I wasn’t with NZTE and I wasn’t with any other agency, I was able to do a review relatively independently.

When this opportunity came up, as I finished being chair and before I moved back into doing 100% practice work, I just grabbed it and worked really closely with the ministers who at that stage were Murray McCully and Tim Groser.

The key thing about the review was to [come up with] recommendations the ambassadors and other agencies up there all agreed with. And once that went in and the funding minister said yes, that’s what we want to do, then I was asked to implement [the recommendations]. For instance, we needed to close down our office in Pakistan. We needed to resource North Africa, we needed to resource more people in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It really came down to that implementation side of things. Then when I came back to New Zealand, the minister asked me to do a cabinet paper on whether New Zealand should participate in the [Dubai] Expo. And then I was asked to be the commissioner-general for the expo.

It was for me an awesome break from the bubble of law, as much as anything else. But I also found that because of the experience I’d gained over the previous 25 years, I was able to make a real difference to that review and the work we were doing up there.

The decision to break away from the law went in stages. I wanted a break, like a sabbatical. And then I ended up enjoying it so much that I stayed for longer. It’s been a really rich experience. If you do a career plan, you don’t say ‘right, and at this stage of my career I’m going to go up and do diplomacy’. But sometimes you’ve got to see an opportunity and take it.

It also gave me the opportunity to get some direct business experience, managing significant budgets and the diplomacy started being very complex, particularly around Expo and dealing with various crises.

When we came back after Expo at the end of 2021, we made a decision that the next season needed to be in New Zealand. We could have gone back overseas but one of the compelling reasons [to stay] was that we’ve got elderly parents and one of the things the pandemic taught us was that you could no longer promise to be back in 24 hours. I was actually caught in Dubai for five months. This isn’t because of quarantine in New Zealand but because there were no planes.


What was so attractive about The Law Association role?

It came down to finding the right sort of fit, if you like, given my experience. I wasn’t compelled to go back to being a full-time lawyer.

I felt that my leadership and strategic and business experience added a string to my bow that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to use if I were a practising lawyer. And I’d been consulting to the countries in the Gulf for the past year when this opportunity came along. It really did seem to fit my legal background and the business background. And I feel The Law Association is at a point where it perhaps needs some fresh insight. I think it’s helpful that I’m a lawyer and I understand how law firms, from big to small, operate.

As we try and shape The Law Association to support the business of law in New Zealand and go beyond the things we’ve always done to say, ‘well, what sort of support do the business of law and lawyers need in New Zealand and how can we better meet those needs?’, I’d like to think people will see The Law Association as very much a key part of the development of the success of their business, engaging with all stakeholders, from government officials and ministers and the judiciary through to other stakeholders.

I think the name change away from ADLS was really important but we now need to wrap around the story behind that. What is it that The Law Association does? I think we’ve got to come up with some really succinct responses to that. The branding needs to get out there in a way that is a very clear proposition as to what the role of The Law Association is and how it can fit into a lawyer’s and a law firm’s life. What is our proposition and what’s our kaupapa? That’s what I would like to focus on.


What is your view of last year’s independent review of the legal profession?

Look, I’ve studied the response. I don’t see the need to establish a new regulatory body. We already have a regulatory body, so let’s allow that body to focus. And I don’t subscribe to a regulatory body also being able to be a representative body. I think there has to be a distinction. Just like, you know, the Commerce Commission isn’t also the Chamber of Commerce. That’s a more extreme example, but it’s probably apposite. But we don’t need to go and create a new entity.


Upcoming challenges?

One of the big things is AI. We know that lawyers are struggling with that, so that’s one of the things we need to get on top of. How do we use AI? How can we reach out to law firms and help shape what those sort of resources are for law firms and lawyers? And also talking to government. Where’s the regulatory environment so all businesses can operate safely within this fast-growing environment? I did see a graph recently about how many years it took to get 100 million people using a telephone, compared with how many years it took for people to take up AI. The pace of change is just staggering. Rather than just looking at our existing businesses, we’re going to have to make sure that we adapt to this new environment. We keep on evolving. It’s so important because otherwise we’re just going to get left behind.

As a lawyer, we are risk averse. We don’t really want to change the way we’re doing things or unless it’s easy. And I remember when all the technology that came in around how to make discovery easier, it was quite clunky. And so there’s quite a resistance to picking up some of these new ways of doing business or new ways of doing something that could be a process. I think AI has changed that. So how do we help lawyers come to grips with a very new environment?

I’d love to think that we could be at the forefront of that as well as doing our business as usual. ■

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