Mai Chen

Founding Partner


Mai Chen, Managing Partner, Chen Palmer Public and Employment Law Specialists, and Adjunct Professor in Commercial and Public Law at the University of Auckland Business School and Faculty of Law.

Mai is a Founding Partner of Chen Palmer New Zealand Public and Employment Law Specialists, Barristers and Solicitors, which has won the Best Boutique Law Firm in 2010, and the Best Public Law Firm in the New Zealand Law Awards in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013 and was a finalist in the Employment Law Awards in 2011.  The Firm has offices in Wellington and Auckland and celebrates its 20th Anniversary in 2014.

Mai is also the best-selling author of Public Law Toolbox published by Lexis Nexis in March 2012 and is the inaugural Chair of New Zealand Global Women.  She has recently founded New Zealand Asian Leaders, connecting top Asian NZ CEOs and emerging leaders with New Zealand companies doing business in Asia to enhance their success to help NZ Inc. She also helped to establish the Pasifika Leadership Academy at BEST Pacific Institute of Education, led by Beatrice Faumuina.

Mai won the supreme Judges Panel Award and the Professional Excellence Award at the New Zealand Chinese Business Elite Awards in 2012.

Mai won the Business and Entrepreneur Women of Influence Award in 2013.

Mai also launched in July 2013, a site which allows the making of wills to be easy and which helps New Zealanders to live life to the full.

Mai won Next Magazine's Business Woman of the Year in 2011, and is a World’s Best New Zealander in the Kiwi Expatriates Network.  Mai was listed in the 2009 and 2010 unlimited magazine’s top Influencers List.  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 was in the Top 10 finalists for 2014 New Zealander of the Year.

Mai sat on the Securities Commission, on the New Zealand Board of Trade and Enterprise’s Beachheads Programme, the Asia New Zealand Foundation, the Advisory Board of AMP Life Limited (NZ), and was President of the Harvard New Zealand Alumni Association (NZ) for ten years.  Mai sits on the New Zealand Law Society Public and Administrative Law Committee.

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.


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

Admitted to the bar: 1986

Recent and notable appearances

Mai 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:

  • New Zealand Motor Caravan Association v Thames-Coromandel District Council [2014] NZHC 2016.
  • Green v Waitangi Tribunal [2014] NZHC 723
  • Board of Trustees of Phillipstown School v Minister of Education [2013] NZHC 2641
  • Board of Trustees of Salisbury Residential School v Attorney-General [2013] NZAR 228 (HC)
  • The Kohanga Reo claim filed by the Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust, WAI2336 (2012) (Waitangi Tribunal)
  • Unison Networks Ltd v Commerce Commission [2008] 1 NZLR 42 (SCNZ)
  • Inatio Akaruru v Tiaki Wuatai and Chief Electoral Officer (Cook Islands Court of Appeal)
  • He Maunga Rongo: Report on the Central North Island Claims (WAI 1200, Wellington Legislation Direct, 2008) (Waitangi Tribunal)
  • Attorney-General v Unitec Institute of Technology [2007] 1 NZLR 750 (CA)
  • Whangamata Marina Society Inc v Attorney-General (2006) 18 PRNZ 565 (HC)
  • Unitec Institute of Technology v Attorney-General [2006] 1 NZLR 65 (HC)
  • Hosking v Runting [2005] 1 NZLR 1; (2004) 7 HRNZ 301 (CA)
  • The Aotearoa Claim concerning Te Wananga o Aotearoa, WAI 1298 (2005) (Waitangi Tribunal)
  • Smithkline Beecham (NZ) Ltd v Minister of Health (2002) 16 PRNZ 361 (HC)
  • Manawatu Polytechnic v Attorney-General HC Wellington CP324/97, 15 December 1997
  • New Zealand Medical Laboratory Workers Inc v Capital Coast Health Ltd (1994) 4 NZELC 98,291; [1994] 2 ERNZ 93 (EMC)

Mai has advised in the following ways:

  • Advising both public and private organisations on diversity policies and strategies, including those which focus on gender, ethnicity, political, employment, or family status, to help ensure organisations can achieve their goals while remaining free of legal claims
  • Acting for the Conservative Party in a judicial review challenge of the Electoral Commission's broadcasting allocation of time and money for election programmes in the run up to the 2014 general election (the proceeding was ultimately withdrawn following the release of the Commission's revised allocation decision)
  • 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
  • Legal advisor to the Kohanga Reo National Trust Board
  • Acting for Mercury Energy in the Ministerial Inquiry on the Auckland Energy Supply Crisis
  • 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

Recent and notable Publications

  • Transforming Auckland: The Creation of Auckland Council, Lexis Nexis, 2014
  • 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
  • Mai Chen and Rt Hon Professor Sir Geoffrey Palmer Public Law in New Zealand: Cases, Materials, Commentary and Questions (Oxford University Press, Auckland, 1993)
  • Mai contributes regular columns to the New Zealand Herald, found here
  • A more complete list of publications can be found here.

Key Appointments

  • 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

Key Honours and Scholarships

  • 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


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