The visionaries who started Sharp Tudhope, Tauranga’s oldest law firm, would be proud of today’s innovative practice.
WORDS NICKY ADAMS / PHOTOS KENRICK RHYS
Like so many traditional professions, law has become redefined in today’s world – times have changed and so have client needs. Progressive practice is key to keeping relevant. Chatting with four lawyers from the property division of Tauranga’s oldest law firm, Sharp Tudhope Lawyers, it’s fascinating to see how the profession has repositioned itself to respond to the demands of today’s market.
The history of this firm alludes to the fact that even the founders were visionary. In 1896, Tauranga’s two resident lawyers, Henry Sharp and Archibald Tudhope, decided that you always do better, together. So, a team of bullocks dragged their two offices onto the same site and they named their new business Sharp Tudhope. These men were innovators, and they set a precedent for the future.
Of course, Tauranga then was dramatically different in both landscape and demographic. Its changes are relevant to us all, and housing is now a hot topic. Today, Sharp Tudhope employs more than 50 staff, and with a 19-strong property team, a collaborative approach is taken to meet client needs.
So, it seems fitting that we talk to partners Alasdair Christie, Hamish Murray, Brooke Courtney and Matthew Billett to find out how our beloved city and the oldest law firm have grown over time, alongside each other.
Alistair is particularly invested in city growth. In his role as partner at Sharp Tudhope he covers the spectrum across private and commercial property law, in addition over the years he has contributed extensively to charitable and community projects.
Professionally, Alasdair had a lot of involvement legally with the development of the University of Waikato building here in Tauranga, which is undoubtedly a coup for the city. Having been practicing law for more than 35 years (32 with Sharp Tudhope), Alasdair has a wealth of experience and one of his career highlights was the construction of the Sharp Tudhope office building.
“I really enjoy the whole building process … I was here every day … if someone had given me a pair of gumboots I would have got on the end
of a wheelbarrow.” If there’s a difference he’s noticed in the changing needs of his clientele, it’s that “these days people appear to be a lot more interested in residential property.” He considers that “in terms of affordability we’ve got out of kilter with what we need.” Historically, he observes, a house was primarily functional; now people can become a little caught up in the status side of a dwelling, he says. As for the firm – how does he perceive that it has continued to be held in such high regard? “We always try to think ahead.”
Hamish moved to Tauranga in 2012, and is acutely aware of the way in which Tauranga is taking shape, as well as the benefits of the immigration surge.
As a member of the board of Mainstreet Tauranga (an organisation tasked with keeping the city centre alive and growing) his message is, “ Be patient, it is happening.” After all, “development is market driven, and markets don’t fit within one timeline. Cities don’t evolve that way … work around the pain points and ultimately it will become a much better place.”
Hamish, who in his role at Sharp Tudhope deals with multiple aspects across the board within the property division, like Alasdair, sees the differences in the profession over his 20 years within it.
“We’ve become more involved in things, and also had to become decision-makers and strategists – and that is what will increasingly distinguish good firms from average firms.” Now, something as simple as the speed with which you can deal with clients, he says, is pivotal. “People want things done instantly. If we can react to that need, then we stay relevant.”
He also puts huge value on sustainability in terms of practice, and building client relationships that last. As someone who is involved in charity work [currently he sits on the Waipuna Hospice Board], he appreciates the huge heart that Sharp Tudhope has for the community. “We’re always willing to put our hand up and help where we can.”
Brooke is another partner whose passion for property burns bright. While she runs the trust law team, she is involved in all aspects of property law, and her love of her chosen discipline is clear. She laughs as she recounts the foresight of the Sharp Tudhop founders in amalgamating the two businesses; as a property lawyer, the story appeals to her hugely. Outside the office, Brooke balances numerous charitable and community-based roles. Indeed, October sees the end to an impressive third term as President of the Property Council Bay of Plenty, underpinning her belief that “everything that we do that’s important or of value in life involves property.”
Brooke is animated about all aspects of her job, from the nitty-gritty of neighbour disputes, to the complexities of trusts. “I get a real kick out of helping people achieve what they’re trying to do.” Her role is one with breadth, and also one that keeps her on her toes. So, what led Brooke to study law? “ I read a lot of John Grisham books!”
It’s fair to say the industry has evolved during Brooke’s 14-year tenure. She notes with a laugh that she is rarely asked, these days, if she’s a secretary. Indeed, she was drawn to Sharp Tudhope in part because of the culture, and healthy female/male ratio. “Clients want someone relatable, someone who they feel understands them. We’ve got 10 partners, all with strengths and different ways of approaching that client relationship and client care.”
Matthew has 18 years of law under his belt – 11 of which have been at Sharp Tudhope – and is co-partner on the trust team. He focuses mainly on private clients; from buying and selling properties, orchards, businesses and farms, to trusts and wills. Having grown up in Tauranga, his parents were originally clients of Sharp Tudhope, and the history of the firm resonated with him. Calm and considered in demeanor, Matthew is “passionate about Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty … I get a buzz out |of helping a range of people, from older clients and businesspeople, to Kiwi orchardists and farmers.”
Inspired by the idea of law as a profession by family friends who were lawyers, in Sharp Tudhope Matthew has found his nirvana. “I just really like helping people,” he says. He also gets enthused about helping people achieve their goals, which aren’t always as out of reach as they may appear. “I just helped a couple in their mid-twenties buy their first home. They chipped away, saved money, used their KiwiSaver … and demonstrated that, if you put your mind to it, it can be done.”
Matthew is also heavily involved in numerous community and charity projects. As well as being a trustee of the Graham Dingle Foundation, he does pro bono work for Papamoa Community Surf Rescue Trust. This, in turn, led to a position on the board of the Papamoa Surf Lifesaving Club. He echoes what is certainly a common thread among the Sharp Tudhope partners, that there is a collective belief in aiding the growth, wealth and health of the community they live in.