Talks to NZLS


On Monday 29 March 1993 the New Zealand Lawyers' Society held its inaugural meeting at New Zealand House. It was an historic occasion. 143 years before, the first English lawyers had arrived in New Zealand, and went on to form local law societies. The reverse had now occurred. It was a step that was long overdue. The close nature of the legal fraternity, the large number of New Zealand lawyers in the United Kingdom and their widespread infiltration of the professions, academia and the business world, and the rich history of the contribution many New Zealanders have made to English law, were all factors which warranted its formation.

The absence of a formal group for lawyers has meant that the contribution made by New Zealanders in Britain had never been adequately canvassed. Yet it is plainly a subject which deserves attention. Among the earliest and best known exports of legal talent was Cecil Wray, the son of a Royal Navy captain who settled in Patea in 1864. Wray established the London firm known as Wray Smith & Co in 1922. He was joined in partnership in 1931 by Maurice Smith, who had practised briefly in his father's firm in Pahiatua before leaving for England. Wray died in England in 1955, and Smith retired to Auckland in 1974, and has since died. John Platts-Mills QC followed hard on their heels. The recipient of a Rhodes scholarship after a distinguishing himself in arts and law at Victoria University, he came to England in 1928, was called in the Inner Temple in 1932, and took silk in 1964.

Hundreds if not thousands of New Zealanders followed in these footsteps. These range from people who are in small provincial firms, to those that head up departments of the leading City firms, to QC's and leading academics at Oxford and Cambridge. The inaugural meeting drew over a hundred lawyers of all shades of seniority, age, fields of practice, and length of residence in England. They included Professor Len Sealy and an Oxbridge contingent, the judiciary (Judge Jeremy Fordham) barristers (all the New Zealand silks attended - John Platts-Mills, Murray Pickering and Philip Sapsford), droves of solicitors and partners from the City firms, students, and lawyers in banks, insurance companies, Reuters, Councils, The Crown Prosecution Service, BP, British Gas, London Underground, the Commonwealth Secretariat, and even McDonalds! Special guests were David Owen, clerk of the Privy Council, and John Bishop, a partner in Wray Smith & Co.

The formal part of the meeting comprised the recital of a mihi (a traditional Maori welcome) by Mark Gray, some introductory remarks by John McLinden, and then addresses by the New Zealand High Commissioner, George Gair, and Bryan Gould. Mr Gould was a charismatic figure who has had an extraordinary career, or more accurately careers. He is best known for his political activities (he was Labour spokesman on various portfolios, a member of the Shadow Cabinet for a number of years, and was recently a contender for leader of the Labour party); however this is only one aspect of his rich and varied life. Educated at Auckland University, (BA LLM) and Balliol College Oxford (MA, BCL) he has at various times worked in the Foreign Office, has been a Fellow and Tutor in Law at Worcester College Oxford, has been a television presenter/reporter for Thames Television, and is also an author. Watching him speak eloquently for exactly 20 minutes without any notes, our members got a glimpse of the depth of his talents.

Sir Robin Cooke is the Society's Patron. If you are coming to England for some time you should consider getting in touch with the Society, so that you can get on the mailing list and hopefully participate in its activities. We may (no promises) be able to give you some leads to find a job; at the very least we will try to refer you to someone who will give you advice as to the best options that may be open to you, and the best way to go about securing your object.

Talks to NZLS

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