New Zealand: ...Our Christchurch office has moved
Last Updated: 3 December 2012

JAWS clients set to benefit from Christchurch earthquake lessons

Our Christchurch staff, from left to right...
Hemma Vara, Sandy Andrews, Kelly Thompson, Gary Betteridge,
Rachel Dawson, Craig Tolson, Barbara Finn, Chanelle White

James & Wells Intellectual Property's Christchurch team has learnt some important lessons since the February 2011 earthquake.

On the move again; this time to a new temporary home in Riccarton ahead of plans to move back into the central city innovation precinct in time, the firm has embraced a change from cumbersome paper, to easier electronic files.

Senior Associate Gary Betteridge, who only moved to Christchurch a few months before things got shaky, says it's traditional for law firms to use paper files as their primary means of keeping records. However, when they permanently lost access to their 20th floor office following the quake, and having just moved in a week prior, electronic backups became imperative.

"As well as the unpredictability of nature, the earthquake showed us two things. Firstly, that working just electronically can be done, as long as all documents are saved on arrival and labeled consistently; and secondly, the importance of having a server at another location away from the usual office site.

"Having our files backed up on a server located in the North Island meant we were able to get back into action again relatively quickly, whereas some other firms were not so lucky."

Dr Betteridge says the close knit Christchurch team has embraced the new way of working and wouldn't go back. "There are huge advantages including real cost savings on both storage space and reduced support time handling files. Having no paper files also means we are able to move offices quickly and easily, which is essential given we are still being temporarily accommodated.

"Like a lot of other businesses in Christchurch, James & Wells has had to exist in some very cramped conditions and make do with what's been available. However, we showed our business was able to be back up and running in a relatively short time following a major disaster and were fortunate to have the infrastructure in place to allow this."

Ultimately the success of the Christchurch team to overcome adversity and need to operate paperless using existing technology has been the driver for a complete overhaul of the firm's IT system, including trialing an advanced document management solution which enables staff to work from anywhere, anytime.

Next year the firm will launch a range of new initiatives including a virtualisation of their services, significant service revamps with an emphasis on online tools, and new value added services.

Dr Betteridge says that clients ultimately benefit. "The move online has considerable cost savings which we can pass onto our clients in terms of reduced disbursements from less travel, couriers and transfer of documents."

James & Wells Intellectual Property is immersed in a culture of clever thinking and constantly seeks to keep the business sustainable on all fronts.

As the first IP law firm to achieve CEMARS® certification, James & Wells' efforts in the area of sustainability have been widely acknowledged. The firm took out the medium business trailblazer category in the NZI National Sustainable Business Network Awards this month and was a double finalist at the New Zealand Law Awards for the 'Intellectual Property Law' and 'Mid-size Law Firm of the Year' categories. The firm is also a silver sponsor of Kiwi charity Sustainable Coastlines.

Despite the trials of the past 18 months, the team at James & Wells Intellectual Property's Christchurch office is still smiling and now accommodated in shared premises with McKinnon, Bradley & Price in the State Insurance Building at 88 Division Street, Riccarton.

Senior Solicitor Rachel Dawson relays her own account of the Christchurch quake.

"Our Christchurch team actually missed the first significant September quake as we were at the national James & Wells AGM in Rotorua. With no phone coverage at the lodge where we were staying, none of us found out about the quake until the next morning on the television news. We then spent two days stranded in Rotorua unable to get a flight home and many long waiting to hear if our loved ones were safe.

On our return to Christchurch, things went back to fairly normal, aside from the numerous aftershocks. Within a week or so, most of the team had power and water, with several also sporting new sand features in their living rooms – and I found out I was three weeks pregnant.

On 11 February 2011 (just one week before the "big" one), we moved to the 20th floor of the PWC building. I hadn't even bother unpacking half my boxes as by this time I was heavily pregnant and could barely touch my toes. The team, as with all Christchurch residents was pretty used to aftershocks by then, but when the earthquake struck, seeing as we hadn't been in the city for the September quake, we weren't sure how bad this one was.

I did know that I couldn't get to the closest doorway, so went down on my knees; the skin was taken off from me being pushed back and forth on the carpet. When I managed to stand up all I could see from my window overlooking Victoria Park was dust rising up to the clouds. When I went outside my office, I found I was cut off from half the team as our file room had fallen into the corridor. I made it to the north side of the floor overlooking Pyne Gould Guinness – and that's when I knew things were really not good.

We then started the long trek down the stairs in the darkness, (me sitting down as being pregnant I was scared of falling over during aftershocks). We headed to the now liquefied Victoria Park while we got our heads around what to do. My car was stuck in the PWC building, so I waddled home, zig-zagging down Cranford Street through the liquefaction.

It has been a long journey since that time. Luckily, we could still do work from home due to our great IT system, however at times like that it is nice to be with others. Our team found a small unit to sublet within a couple of weeks and our team has become even closer since then.

It has been a big reminder that life is a very fragile thing; and I'll have some great stories to tell my little quake baby when he's older."

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