Mai Chen

Founding Partner


Mai Chen is a founding partner of Chen Palmer New Zealand Public Law Specialists, Barristers and Solicitors, Australasia’s first public law specialist firm, which she co-founded in 1994. She has led Chen Palmer for the last 18 years. The firm is in its 19th year.

Chen Palmer NZPLS was voted best New Zealand Public Law Firm in the New Zealand Law Awards in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 and best Boutique Law Firm in 2010.

Mai is the bestselling author of the Public Law Tool Box, published by Lexis Nexis in 2012, and is an Adjunct Professor in Commercial and Public Law at the University of Auckland Business School. She also teaches an Executive MBA course at Auckland University, and has taught an intensive masters course at the Auckland Law School. She has also recently published a section on “Our Legal and Business Framework” in Law for Business (Watson Sims, et al) Akoranga Press, Auckland 2013).

Mai writes a regular column for the New Zealand Herald on topical public law issues and regularly appears on National Radio’s Nine to Noon and The Panel with Jim Mora.

Mai is an expert in:

  • Administrative law and judicial review;
  • Regulation and legislation;
  • Constitutional law and Treaty of Waitangi issues;
  • Reforming law and public policy;
  • Parliament, including select committee inquiries and appearances, and privilege and the Standing Orders and a rights of reply for adverse statements;
  • NZ Bill of Rights, Official Information, privacy and human rights;
  • Public sector restructuring and public law issues;
  • Managing government and regulatory risk for business;
  • Commissions of inquiries and reviews;
  • Strategic Public Law advice;
  • State Owned Enterprises, Mixed Ownership Models and Crown entities.

Mai was formerly a member of the Securities Commission, the New Zealand Advisory Board of Trade and Enterprise’s Beachheads Programme, the Asia New Zealand Foundation, and the Advisory Board of AMP Life Limited (NZ). She was a Senior Lecturer at Victoria University Law School and sat on the Councils of Victoria University of Wellington and Wellington Polytechnic.

Mai was the inaugural Chair of the Board of New Zealand Global Women (a network of the most senior NZ women in this country and overseas), a member of the World Class New Zealand Network, and President of the Harvard Law School Alumni Association (New Zealand). She is a member of the New Zealand Law Society Public and Administrative Law Committee.

Mai was in the 2009 and 2010 Unlimited magazine’s 50 top Influencers List, and in the 2007 New Zealand Listener 50 Most Influential New Zealanders list and was ranked 57th in the Readers Digest list of the 85 Most Trusted New Zealanders.

In 1989, Mai chaired a Tri-Departmental Ministerial Inquiry into the Policy concerning Women in Combat, and in 2001, she undertook a review of the Privacy Act for the Associate Minister of Justice. She was the Special Advisor to Rt Hon Jenny Shipley for the 1995 Beijing Women’s Conference. She won the Irving Oberman Memorial Award for the best Human Rights thesis at Harvard Law School in 1988 on the Treaty of Waitangi and Maori rights.

Mai has a First Class Law Honours degree from Otago University, a Masters degree from Harvard Law School, is a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Management, and an Honorary Associate of Auckland University of Technology. 

Mai has recently launched, which is a site for the creation of wills, and is the Foundation Chair of AsiaNZ CEO.

Mai has advised at various times many of the biggest corporate and quasi-public sector organisations in New Zealand and Australia, including Origin Energy Ltd, GlaxoSmithKline, the TAB and the NZ Racing Industry Board, Independent Liquor, Talley’s, Telecom, Sky, Vector, Southern Cross, Citibank, Meridian Energy Limited, Metrowater, TVNZ, AMP, QBE Insurance Ltd, Fisher & Paykel, Baycorp Advantage Ltd, EnviroWaster Services Ltd., UBS Warburg, Transpower, Wilson Hellaby, Lowe Corporation, the Greenhouse Policy Coalition comprising the biggest emitters in New Zealand who generate 10% of the Gross Domestic Product of this country, along with various universities, polytechnics, Crown companies and Government departments and regional and local authorities. She has acted for many private training establishments and for the Kohanga Reo National Trust Board, the Maori Language Commission, Te Wananga o Aotearoa, the Council of Legal Education, the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association and the New Zealand Association of Private Education Providers. She primarily problem solves and provides strategic public law advice for General Counsel, Chief Executives, and Chairpersons of Boards.

She has appeared before a range of fora including the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal in New Zealand and the Cook Islands, the High Court, the Commerce Commission, the Regulations Review Committee and other select committees, the Broadcasting Standards Authority, the Apple & Pear Export Consents Committee, the Electoral Commission, the Waitangi Tribunal and the Real Estate Agents Authority. Her appearances include:

  • Unison Networks Ltd v Commerce Commission [2008] 1 NZLR 42 (SC);
  • He Maunga Rongo: Report on the Central North Island Claims (WAI 1200, Wellington Legislation Direct, 2008) (Waitangi Tribunal).
  • Whangamata Marina Society Inc v the Attorney-General [2007] 1 NZLR 252 (HC);
  • Attorney-General v Unitec Institute of Technology and Anor [2007] 1 NZLR 750 (CA);
  • Unitec Institute of Technology v Attorney-General [2006] 1 NZLR 65 (HC);
  • Hosking v Runting [2005] 1 NZLR 1 (CA);
  • The Aotearoa Claim concerning Te Wananga o Aotearoa, WAI 1298 (2005) (Waitangi Tribunal); and
  • Attorney-General v Salisbury [2012] NZHC 3348;

Mai has advised in the following ways:

  • A telecommunications company on the Local Loop Unbundling Inquiry
  • Origin Energy on the regulatory and government risks of purchasing EME’s shares in Contact Energy
  • Auckland Institute of Technology (a polytechnic) on becoming Auckland University of Technology, Wellington Polytechnic on merging with Massey University, and Dunedin College of Education on a proposed merger with the University of Otago
  • Advising on a number of law reform projects
  • Advising various companies and association bodies on the regulation of their industry
  • Acting for Mercury Energy in the Ministerial Inquiry on the Auckland Energy Supply Crisis
  • Appearing in the Court of Appeal in New Zealand, and the Cook Islands, on constitutional law cases
  • Reviewing the Privacy Act 1993 for the Associate Minister of Justice in 2000, and appearing in the groundbreaking privacy case of Hosking v Runting & Ors in the Court of Appeal
  • Drafting Select Committee submissions and appearing on a large number of Bills for some of the biggest companies in New Zealand and globally
  • Acting for clients in numerous Inquiries before Select Committees, and those conducted by the Auditor-General and the State Services Commission
  • Advising the Ministry of Health on the implications of the Human Rights Amendment Bill 2001, and Treasury on aspects of the Public Finance Act
  • Advising Maori iwi and hapu on legislation, post-settlement issues, and representing them before the Waitangi Tribunal
  • Advising Local Authorities on Treaty of Waitangi obligations
  • Advising clients on trans-Tasman obligations including law reform
  • Representing numerous clients in judicial review and interim order applications in the High Court, generally against the Crown
  • Advising numerous clients on Commerce Act and Fair Trading Act problems.

Mai has written extensively on administrative law (especially the public law liabilities of SOEs and Crown-owned companies); on judicial review; the constitutional implications of MMP for law and policy; on Standing Orders and Parliament; the Treaty of Waitangi, international treaties; Government contracting; discrimination law and women's rights.

Mai also does a range of pro bono work, including for the Auckland Zoo, New Zealand Endometriosis Foundation and He Huarahi Tamariki (the School for Teenage Parents in Tawa). Mai was President of the Harvard Law School Alumni Association (New Zealand) for ten years, and was a member of the Royal New Zealand Ballet Board for four and a half years.

In 2001, she undertook a review of the Privacy Act for the Associate Minister of Justice.


LLB (Hons) (Otago), LLM (Harvard) FNZIM

Admitted to the bar: 1986


  • Adjunct Professor in Commercial and Public Law, University of Auckland Business School
  • Chair, New Zealand Global Women, 2009 - February 2012
  • President, Harvard Law School Alumni Association (New Zealand), 1 June 2003 - July 2011
  • Partner – November 1994 to present, Chen Palmer, New Zealand Public Law Specialists, Barristers and Solicitors
  • Former member, Asia NZ Foundation, 19 December 2006 – 19 December 2009
  • Former member, New Zealand Securities Commission, from 1 September 2003 to 31 August 2009
  • Former member of New Zealand Advisory Board to Beachheads Programme, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, 31 May 2007 – December 2008
  • Honorary Lecturer, Master of Public Policy, Faculty of Commerce, Victoria University of Wellington 1995; Honorary Lecturer, Law Faculty, Victoria University of Wellington, teaching an LLM course in Public Law in 1996 and 2002 and Administrative Law from 1997-2001
  • Television commentator on topical issues in Public Law on Television New Zealand’s Breakfast programme (Channel 1) 1998-present
  • Member of the Advisory Board of AMP Life Limited, November 2001-2004
  • Appointed by the Associate Minister of Justice to undertake scoping review of the Privacy Act 1993 in 2001
  • Human Rights Law and Practice, Consulting Editor, 1999-2003
  • Advisory Panel Member of Asian Vision, 1998-present
  • Ministerial Appointee, Gordon Watson Scholarship Committee, 1996-2002
  • Member, Legislation Committee, New Zealand Law Society, 1993-2001
  • Member, NZLS Continuing Legal Education Administrative/Public Law Consultative Group, 2006 – 2008
  • Member of the New Zealand Law Society Public and Administrative Law Committee, June 2010 - present
  • Executive Board Member, Asia 2000 Foundation of New Zealand, 1994-1999
  • Ministerial Appointee, Council of Wellington Polytechnic, 1994-1996
  • Special Advisor, Minister of Women’s Affairs, Rt Hon Jenny Shipley, New Zealand Delegation, Beijing Women’s Conference, Beijing, 1995
  • January-November 1994 Senior Solicitor, Russell McVeagh McKenzie Bartleet & Co, Wellington Office, working in the Litigation and Commercial Law Departments specialising in Public Law, as well as some Asia Desk responsibilities
  • December 1988-1993 - Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer at the Law Faculty at Victoria University of Wellington
  • Member of the Law Faculty Graduate and Research Committee and the University Library Committees, 1991-1993
  • Sexual Harassment Officer, 1990-1993
  • Law and Economics Professors Institute, run by Professor Henry Manne of the George Mason University at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, United States 1992
  • University Academic Board Member, Victoria University of Wellington, 1991-1992
  • Advisor to Women Students, Victoria University of Wellington, 1990-1992
  • Chairperson, Ministerial Inquiry into the Policy concerning Women in Combat, 1989-1990
  • 1988 – Human Rights Fellow at the International Labour Office, Legal Standards Division, Geneva
  • January-August 1987 Assistant Lecturer, Law Faculty, University of Otago
  • 1984-1986 Teaching Assistant, Law Faculty, University of Otago
  • Honours and Scholarships

Chen Palmer won the Best Public Law Firm in the New Zealand Law Awards in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. Chen Palmer won the Best Boutique Firm Award at the Law Awards in 2010.

  • Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Management
  • Honorary Associate of the Auckland University of Technology
  • Irving Oberman Memorial Award: Best Human Rights thesis at Harvard Law School. Topic: Treaty of Waitangi and Maori rights
  • Outstanding Overseas Chinese Scholar. Awarded by the Government of Taiwan, Republic of China
  • Otago Girls High School: Dux; Head Girl; Best All Round Student
  • New Zealand Jaycees National Speech Champion (10 years after arriving in New Zealand with no English)
  • Ferguson Human Rights Fellowship; scholarship granted by the Harvard Human Rights Programme to be a Fellow at the International Labour Office in Geneva working on UN Women’s Convention and the ILO Indigenous Peoples Convention
  • United States - Frank Knox Memorial Fellowship to study at Harvard Law School;
  • Commonwealth Scholarship to Canada; Toronto University Open Fellowship (both declined)
  • William Georgetti Scholarship granted by the New Zealand Governor-General
  • Sir Harold Barrowclough Scholarship
  • Butterworths Travelling Scholarship


  • Employment Law for Business, Lexis Nexis, 2013;
  • Law for Business, Akoranga Press, 2013, Section 2 and 6, Chapters 2, 3 and 14;
  • The Public Law Toolbox, Lexis Nexis 2012;
  • Regular Monthly Articles in New Zealand Lawyer from February 2006:
  • Issue 33:           Sore Loser or Defender of Democracy? Peters v Clarkson; and 2006 from a Public Law Perspective – 10 February 2006
  • Issue 35:           An underutilised public law tool? The first 15 years of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 10 March 2006
  • Issue 37:           The Constitutional Future of the Treaty of Waitangi: will the Courts play a role? - 7 April 2006
  • Issue 39:           Private Companies and Public Duties – a Cautionary Tale – 5 May 2006
  • Issue 41:           A fresh look at Regulation: Trends and Likely Outcomes - 2 June 2006
  • Issue 43:           Evaluating the First Eighteen Months of the Crown Entities Act – 30 June 2006
  • Issue 45:           Successful Government Contracting – understanding the unique characteristics of the Government as a contracting party – 28 July 2006
  • Issue 47: Local Government – Three years into the learning curves – 25 August 2006
  • Issue 49: Student Discipline from the Public Law Perspective – 22 September 2006
  • Issue 51: The Whangamata Marina Case: Crossing the Rubicon, Part 1 of 2 – 20 October 2006
  • Issue 53: The Whangamata Marina Case: Crossing the Rubicon, Part 2 – 17 November 2006
  • Issue 59: The Government agenda for 2007 from a public law perspective – 2 March 2007
  • Issue 61: Regulate or Ban? Party Pills and Public Law Issues – 30 March 2007
  • Issue 62: The Diagnostic Medlab case: pushing the boundaries of public law, or just an unusual set of law & facts?– 13 April 2007
  • Issue 64: Enforcement and Penalties under the Therapeutic Products and Medicines Bill: Joint Regime or Australian Regime? – 11 May 2007
  • Issue 66: Decision making on climate change policy and legislation : will New Zealand be ready for the first commitment period on 1 January 2008? – 8 June 2007
  • Issue 68: The Education (Tertiary Reforms) Amendment Bill - reforming the sector or eroding academic freedom? – 6 July 2007
  • Issue 70: Review of Parts 4A, 4 and 5 of the Commerce Act: A New Regulatory Dawn? - 3 August 2007
  • Issue 72: Reform of the Real Estate Agents Act 1976: Some constitutional issues – 31 August 2007
  • Issue 74: Section 19 of the Crown Entities Act: does illegality mean invalidity? – 28 September 2007
  • Issue 76: The Government's recent climate change announcements: public law issues – 26 October 2007
  • Issue 78: The Royal Commission of Inquiry on Auckland: Public Law Issues – 23 November 2007
  • Issue 79: Getting the balance right : Privacy, the free flow of information and the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Amendment Bill –7 December 2007
  • Issue 82: The legislative and regulatory outlook in election year 2008 – 22 February 2008
  • Issue 84: Greater regulation of financial advice; getting the balance right? – 20 March 2008
  • Issue 86: Advising clients on the Electoral Finance Act – 18 April 2008
  • Issue 92: Revealing Public Law’s holy book – 11 July 2008
  • Issue 96: Liquor Reform: good government or good politics? – 5 September 2008
  • Issue 97: Reflections on the fifteenth anniversary of the MMP referendum – 19 September 2008
  • Issue 98: Setting the scene: The Electoral Finance Act 2007 in context – 3 October 2008
  • Issue 99: The Real Estate Agents Act 2008: A warning to other professions? – 17 October 2008
  • Issue 100: When is a litigation problem really a legislative problem? – 31 October 2008
  • Issue 107: The changing legislative and regulatory environment under the new Government – the first one hundred days – 8 March 2009
  • Issue 111: Is the MMP referendum likely to result in electoral reform? – 4 May 2009
  • Issue 115:The Impact of the Regulatory Reform Bill and Taskforce – 26 June 2009
  • Issue 117: The Government’s decision not to regulate franchising – can it be changed? - 24 July 2009
  • Issue: 123 “Education (Polytechnics) Amendment Bill 2009: A Major Law Reform in the Polytechnic Sector” – 16 October 2009, pp10-11.
  • Issue: 126: “Strengthening the Protection of Private Property: The Regulatory Responsibility Taskforce 2009 and Revised Bill” – 11 December 2009, pp10-11.
  • Issue 137: Why Ombudsman Matter and Why the Ombudsman Act needs Reform” – 28 May 2010, pp10-13.
  • “Does New Zealand’s Ombudsman legislation need amending after (almost) 50 years?” (50 page paper, forthcoming, Victoria University of Wellington Law Review);
  • “Auckland Local Government Reforms" (August 2009) New Zealand Law Journal 316;
  • “Is Change in our electoral system likely?” The Independent Financial Review, 7 May 2009;
  • “National’s firm grip on House Agenda”, The National Business Review, 3 April 2009;
  • “Tackling the next 1000 days” The National Business Review, 6 March 2009;
  • “LAW: National’s makeover shows change is real” The National Business Review, 20 February 2009;
  • Mai Chen & Richard Harker “Commerce Amendment Act 2008” (November 2008) New Zealand Law Journal 421;
  • “Setting the Scene: The Electoral Finance Act 2007 in Context “ LexisNexis Conference on the Electoral Finance Act 2007;
  • “Ultra Vires, Section 19 of the Crown Entities Act and Constitutional Questions – Does Illegality Mean Invalidity?” LexisNexis Conference on Legal issues for Crown Entities, 4 September 2007;
  • “Ministerial decision-making under the RMA: Whangamata Marina Society v The Attorney-General”, LexisNexis Environmental Law Conference, 4 April 2007
  • "Crown Entities Act : 18 months on" (September 2006) New Zealand Law Journal 315;
  • “Evaluating the First 18 Months of the Crown Entities Act 2004”, Government Contracting Conference, 19 June 2006, Wellington;
  • “A Public Law Assessment of the Treaty of Waitangi’s Constitutional Future”, 8th Annual Public Law Forum, 21 March 2006;
  • “What does the Fourth MMP Government hold for Government Lawyers? An Analysis from a Public Law Perspective”, Public Sector In-House Counsel Forum 2005, 17 November 2005;
  • “New Zealand’s constitutional future? Interpreting the signs”, NPI conference, 28 April 2005;
  • “What the 2005 election year holds for business and the public service”, NZIM breakfast seminar, 27 January 2005;
  • “Second term Labour Government & business: Key Public Law Issues”, 6th Annual Public Law Forum, 23 March 2004;
  • “Is Judicial Independence under Threat in New Zealand?”, Triennial Judges Conference, Rotorua, 31 March 2003;
  • New Zealand Law Society Seminar Delegated Legislation, May 2002, “Part II: Practical problems for practitioners with regulations”, pages 57-97;
  • “Inquiries and reviews under the fifth Labour Government”, New Zealand Public Law Forum: Public Law 2002, Wellington, 16-17 April 2002;
  • “The constitutional significance of the Human Rights Amendment Act 2001”, IIR Public Law Conference 2002, 25-26 March 2002;
  • “A Constitutional Revolution? The Role of the New Zealand Parliament in Treaty-making” (2001) New Zealand Universities Law Review 448-474;
  • “The impact of minority coalition governments on the quality and coherence of policy and law making”, IIR Conference: “Designing, implementing and evaluating successful Government policy”, 23 October 2001;
  • “Ratifying the Kyoto Protocol by September 2002: Policy and Legislative Implications” [2001] New Zealand Law Journal 443;
  • “The Changing Shape of the Public Sector Under the Labour-Led Coalition Government” [2001] New Zealand Law Journal 207;
  • “Crown Entities” [2001] New Zealand Law Journal 257;
  • “Unfinished Business? The Evolving Role of Parliament in Executive Treaty-Making in New Zealand”, ANZSIL/SIL Conference Paper, Canberra, 28 June 2000;
  • “Inquiries and reviews under the Labour/Alliance Government”, Lawtalk, Issue 537, 3 April 2000;
  • “Organising the Executive under a Change Constitution : What should be included?”, Building the Constitution Conference, (Institute of Policy Studies, Wellington, 2000);
  • “Better Enforcing the Women’s Rights Convention” in Paul Hunt (ed) Human Rights - How are they best protected? Proceedings of a seminar organised by New Zealand Law Society, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, International Commission of Jurists (New Zealand Section) (Human Rights Commission, Auckland, 1998);
  • “Improving Enforcement of the Women’s Rights Convention” (1996) 2 Human Rights Law and Practice 19;
  • “Parliament And Law-making Under MMP: The New Standing Orders”, in Conference Papers – The 1996 New Zealand Law Conference (1996) vol 1, 132
  • “MMP and Chartered Accountants” Chartered Accountants Journal September 1995, 26;
  • “MMP and Further Reconfiguration of the State?” [1995] New Zealand Law Journal 158;
  • “Accountability of SOEs & Crown-owned Companies: Judicial Review, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and the impact of MMP”[1994] New Zealand Law Journal 296;
  • “Eliminating Race Discrimination in New Zealand: Generating the Political Will and Improving Laws” (1994) 20(3) New Community 455 Special issue “Comparative Approaches to Anti-Discrimination Law”;
  • “The Introduction of Mixed-member Proportional Representation in New Zealand – Implications for Lawyers” (1994) 5 Public Law Review 104;
  • “Judicial review of state-owned enterprises at the crossroads” (1994) 24 Victoria University of Wellington Law Review 51;
  • “Health care strategy and MMP” GP Weekly 14 December 1994;
  • “Self-regulation or State Regulation? Discrimination in Clubs” (1993) 15 New Zealand Universities Law Review 421;
  • “Judicial Review under the Health and Disability Services Act 1993” (1993) 16(4) Public Sector 20;
  • “MMP to expand lawyer influence, increase parliamentary scrutiny” (1993) Issue 406, LawTalk, 19;
  • “Protective Laws and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women” (1993) 15(1) Women’s Rights Law Reporter 1;
  • “The Impact of the New Human Rights Act 1993: Disability and Age Discrimination” (1993) 91 Australian and New Zealand Equal Opportunity Law and Practice Reporter, “New Developments” 705;
  • “Remedying New Zealand’s Constitution in Crisis: Is MMP part of the answer?” [1993] New Zealand Law Journal 22;
  • “Discrimination, Law, and Being a Chinese Immigrant Woman in New Zealand” [1993] 9(2) Women’s Studies Journal 1-29;
  • “The Inadequacies of New Zealand’s Discrimination Law” [1992] New Zealand Law Journal 137;
  • “Reforming New Zealand’s Anti-Discrimination Law” [1992] New Zealand Law Journal 172;
  • “A Lawyer’s Perspective on M?ori and Gender Issues in the 1990 General Elections” in EM McLeay (ed) The 1990 General Election: Perspectives on Political Change in New Zealand Occasional Publication No.3 (Department of Politics, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, 1991) 91;
  • “The Experience of an LLM Student at Harvard Law School” [1990] New Zealand Law Journal 8;
  • “Customary Maori Fishing Rights” [1989] New Zealand Law Journal 233;
  • “Avoiding Compromise Agreements for Unjust Effect: An Evaluation of the Courts’ Approach to section 21(8)(b) Matrimonial Property Act 1976” (1987) 6 Otago Law Review 440;
  • “Scoping Paper on the Privacy Act 1993”, prepared for Hon Margaret Wilson, Associate Minister of Justice, April 2001;
  • “Discrimination in New Zealand: A Personal Journey” in Adrien Katherine Wing (ed) Global Critical Race Feminism An International Reader (New York University Press, New York, 2000) 129-140;
  • “The Reconfiguration of the State and the Appropriate Scope of Judicial Review” in J Boston (ed) State Under Contract (Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 1995);
  • “Law and Economics and the Case for Discrimination Law” in The University, Ethics and Society (Combined Chaplaincies at Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, 1995);
  • Mai Chen and Rt Hon Professor Sir Geoffrey Palmer Public Law in New Zealand: Cases, Materials, Commentary and Questions (Oxford University Press, Auckland, 1993);
  • Government Review of the Policy Concerning Women in Combat: Report of the Working Party on Women in Combat (1990); and
  • Women and Discrimination: New Zealand and the UN Convention (Institute of Policy Studies, Wellington, 1989)


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