Welcome to My Net Worth, our regular column on the lives and motivations of our country’s top business, legal and political people, in their own words.
Michael Heron’s legal career has included time at law firms Meredith Connell and Russell McVeagh and as the Solicitor-General of New Zealand from 2012 to 2016. He recently sold the majority stake of his automated disputes resolution service, CODR, to an Australian buyer. His recent high-profile work includes the probe into the leaking of private patient data by the then National MP Hamish Walker, a review into live animal exports, and the representation of a high-profile sportsperson accused of being involved in a global drug conspiracy.
My father was a lawyer (who later became Justice Richard Heron), my mother was a teacher, and I had a pretty settled middle-class upbringing.
I did law and accounting. I was probably better at accounting, but I did both degrees and gravitated into law. I do enjoy the people side of it – that ability to help people out.
The first university year I worked quite hard and got quite good results. The second, it was a bit variable and I was slightly distracted. The usual – girls, sports and socialising.
Lawyer Ron Mansfield, I think he came up with the name “young thrusters” when we were at Meredith Connell. We had such a great time. It was a great firm and I think quite an intoxicating environment; you mainly feel you are on the side of right and justice.
You would go into [now Justice] Simon Moore’s office knowing you’d ballsed something up and you were going to get told off. And you walked out thinking, gosh, I’m good! It was his only failing – that he wasn’t great at giving people tough or bad news.
I’ll be the first to say I’m not a really brilliant lawyer. That’s not my skill. I am okay at law.
When I became a QC, I remember I got a message telling me, “John Key wants to see you.” And I thought, “Oh, I better get there quickly.” I was on The Terrace in Wellington so I went down to Parliament, then up to level nine of the Beehive to see the then Prime Minister. He was practising his putting at the time and I thought, well this can’t be a panic then...
We went as a family to my QC ceremony. We celebrated with my mother and her friend, Sir Thomas Eichelbaum (my father died 18 years ago), who was a role model, in a way, to me. I have his QC gown and my father’s wig so I felt really special. My father was a great influence; Sir Thomas a mentor.
I certainly watched my dad a lot, but I don’t think he was too fazed one way or another and I remember him saying, years ago, when I was still at university, “You could be Solicitor-General one day”, and I didn’t know what that job was and I had zero aspirations. It wasn’t on my radar. So I laughed when I ended up there.
Solicitor-General is the best job I’ve ever had, by far. The level of public scrutiny, that’s probably the negative, but it comes with the territory.
I stayed with my mum when I was down in Wellington working at the Crown Law Office. I said on my first day: “What am I? Forty-seven years old and living with my mother.”
But the big issue was commuting every week from Auckland, so after three years, I said to Chris [Finlayson, the then Attorney-General], “Sorry, mate.”
I love reading. William Boyd is one of my favourites. Reading and fishing, and a bit of golf. But I’m a crap golfer.
The last thing I splurged on was a beach house at Omaha. I got it just this year.
We went to the Venice Biennale and followed artist Lisa Reihana when she exhibited in 2017. That’s just one of the best experiences you can have: to follow a New Zealand artist at the Venice Biennale.
As told to Victoria Young
This interview has been edited for clarity.