Mai Chen

Senior Partner

Mai is the Senior Partner of Chen Palmer and has over 30 years of experience in Public and Administrative Law. She also Chairs the Superdiversity Institute of Law, Policy and Business and is the President of New Zealand Asian Lawyers and Chair of NZ Asian Leaders.

Specialist areas of expertise

  • Advising statutory bodies
  • New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, human rights and Treaty of Waitangi issues
  • Judicial review
  • Education law
  • Employment law, especially for statutory bodies, state sector employers/employees
  • Regulatory Law
  • Inquiries and reviews
  • White collar fraud and regulatory defence
  • Implications of superdiversity for law, policy and business
  • Conflicts of interests
  • Treaty of Waitangi settlements, and claims in the Waitangi Tribunal and Courts

Roles and achievements of note include:

  • Senior Partner, Chen Palmer Public and Employment law Specialists, New Zealand
  • Former Adjunct Professor at University of Auckland School of Law
  • Director, BNZ Board
  • Chair, BNZ People and Remuneration Committee
  • Member, BNZ Audit Committee
  • Chair, New Zealand Asian Leaders
  • Chair, Superdiversity Centre for Law, Policy and Business
  • Inaugural Chair, NZ Global Women
  • Co-founder, Cultural Bridge, JV company with NZME
  • Top 10 finalists, 2014 and 2016 New Zealander of the Year

Chen Palmer won the Best Boutique Law Firm in 2010, and Best Public Law Firm in the New Zealand Law Awards from 2007-2011, and 2013, and was a finalist in the Employment Law Awards in 2011. The Firm has offices in Wellington and Auckland and celebrated its 20th Anniversary in November 2014. Chen Palmer was one of NZ’s first boutique law firms and was Australasia’s first “Washington-style” law firm specialising in legislation and public policy. Mai is a thought leader, a direction setter and a futures thinker. She is one of NZ’s top constitutional and administrative law experts, specialising in central and local Government policy and legislation, especially as it applies to business, and litigating major public law cases.  Mai is also a judicial review specialist.

Mai leads Chen Palmer’s Education Team which comprises of Antonia Di Maio, Leo Huang and Leo Donnelly. She is available to advise all tertiary education organisations on a range of matters including engaging with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and Tertiary Education Commission, reviews and investigations by regulatory agencies, and ensuring TEOs get a fair and just process.

Mai is Adjunct Professor at the University of Auckland, School of Law. She was previously Adjunct Professor in Commercial and Public Law at the University of Auckland, Business School.

Mai is the best-selling author of Public Law Toolbox published in 2012 and Transforming Auckland: The Creation of Auckland Council published in 2014, both by LexisNexis. The second edition of Public Law Toolbox was published in 2014.

Mai is an independent non-executive Director on the Bank of New Zealand Board. She chairs the People and Remuneration Committee, sits on the NZ Regional Audit committee, the Risk Committee and is the Health and Safety champion on the BNZ Board.

Mai is the inaugural Chair of NZ Global Women, including NZ’s top 200 women leaders, and founded and is the inaugural Chair of NZ 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 Pacifica Leadership Academy at BEST Pacific Institute of Education, formerly led by Olympic medalist Beatrice Faumuina.

Mai is an Accredited Fellow of the Institute of Directors.

Mai was in the Top 10 finalists for 2014 New Zealander of the Year. She won the supreme Judges Panel Award and the Professional Excellence Award at the New Zealand Chinese Business Elite Awards in 2012, and also the Business and Entrepreneur Women of Influence Award in 2013. 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 is a member of Legals Finest for Public and Administrative Law and has been ranked in the forthcoming edition of Chambers Asia Pacific 2016 as one of the best lawyers.

Mai sat on the Securities Commission for 6 years, on the NZ 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 board of directors of the Bank of New Zealand, and will be taking on more governance appointments.

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. She was born in Taiwan and emigrated to NZ in 1970 with her family. She became a NZ citizen in 1977.

Mai 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. The site was rebranded as, and has just been bought by Perpetual Guardian.

Mai has completed the “Superdiversity Stocktake: Implications for Business, Government and New Zealand” published on the Superdiversity Centre for Law, Policy and Business Website. Chen Palmer and the Superdiversity Centre have also recently entered into a joint venture with NZ Media and Entertainment to form Cultural Bridge to advise government and companies on how to communicate with diverse New Zealanders.

Mai was a Top 10 finalist in the 2014 and 2016 New Zealander of the Year Awards.


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.

Mai’s appearances include:

  • Donglin Deng v Lu Zheng – SC 5/2021.
  • Jones and PPTA v Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand/Matatū Aotearoa [2021] NZHC 1581.
  • E R Bellas Limited v Karikari Charitable Trust Incorporated [2020] NZHC 2517.
  • Chief Executive of Land Information New Zealand v Agria (Singapore) Pte Limited [2019] NZHC 514
  • Department of Internal Affairs v Qian Duoduo Ltd [2018] NZHC 1887
  • Labour Inspector v E Ming limited [2018] NZERA 196
  • Li v Immigration Protection Tribunal [2017] NZHC 174
  • Attorney-General v Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand [2016] NZCA 609.
  • Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand v Attorney General [2015] NZHC 1701
  • Webber v Midlands Health Network Ltd [2015] NZERA (Auckland) 47
  • 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)
  • Te Kōhanga 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)
  • Whangamatā 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 Wānanga o Aotearoa, WAI 1298 (2005) (Waitangi Tribunal)
  • Smithkline Beecham (NZ) Ltd v Minister of Health (2002) 16 PRNZ 361 (HC)
  • Manawatū Polytechnic v Attorney-General HC Wellington CP 324/97, 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 Kōhanga 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 hapū on legislation, post-settlement issues, and representing them before the Waitangi Tribunal
  • Advising Local Authorities on Treaty of Waitangi obligations

Recent and Notable Publications

  • Superdiversity Stocktake: Implications for Business, Government and New Zealand, 2015
  • The Public Law Toolbox (second edition), LexisNexis 2014
  • Transforming Auckland: The Creation of Auckland Council, LexisNexis, 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

  • Director of BNZ
  • Chair, Superdiversity Centre for Law, Policy and Business
  • Chair, New Zealand Asian Leaders
  • Adjunct Professor at University of Auckland Law 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 Awards

Zonta Women of the Biennium

Top 10 finalist for 2016 New Zealander of the Year 

Top 10 finalist for 2014 New Zealander of the Year

Business and Entrepreneur Women of Influence Award

Chen Palmer won the Best Public Law Firm in the New Zealand Law Awards in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 and 2013, and was runner-up in 2012, and was a 2011 Finalist in Employment Law. Chen Palmer also won the Best Boutique Firm Category in 2010. Chen Palmer was runner up in the Best Boutique Firm category of the New Zealand Law Awards in 2007 and 2008.

Supreme Judges Panel Award and Professional Excellence Award at the New Zealand Chinese Business Elite Awards

Next Magazine’s Business Woman of the Year

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 Māori 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)

Key Scholarships

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

Contact details

DDI: +64 9 557 0351

Fax: +64 9 915 0003

Mobile: +64 21 565 709