New Zealand Law Society

Navigation menu

Warren John Scotter 1947 – 2020

29 June 2020

Waikato lawyer Warren Scotter has died at the age of 72. Warren was a former President of the Waikato Bay of Plenty branch, and worked for Harkness Henry, and its predecessors, for nearly 50 years until his death.

Warren Scotter

The following is the eulogy delivered by Justice Christine Grice

“Warren came up to join Harkness Henry shortly after graduating from Canterbury Law School with an honours degree in law in 1970.  He joined Harkness Henry Course and Annan in December of that year.

Warren was admitted to the bar in Hamilton in December 1971 and quickly admitted to the partnership of Harkness Henry Course and Annan which later became Harkness Henry.  He remained with the firm for almost 50 years until his recent death on 22 May 2020.

Warren ran the Canterbury law school recruitment programme in Waikato during the 1970s.  Among others Gavin Boot, Paul Middlemiss and Simon Menzies were the earlier recruits that Warren lured up from Canterbury.  Although after the establishment of the Law School at Waikato University his focus changed to recruiting Waikato University law graduates.

Warren was a court lawyer from the beginning.  He was an excellent advocate and took on some unpopular cases – he regularly took on cases which seemed impossible.

However, Warren would attack them with enthusiasm and persistence. Throughout his time in practice he tackled cases in most areas of the law and he brought that enthusiasm and persistence to everything.  He said that some of his most memorable cases were in the criminal law and latterly in cases involving estate or relationship property disputes.

Warren’s persistence coupled with his taking on some unpopular causes fired robust debate around the tearoom at Harkness Henry.

Criminal work

Warren honed his skills in the criminal courts.  He really never gave up practising the criminal law – the fact that a partner in what was a large law firm for the Waikato would continue to take on criminal work was unusual.  But Warren had gained a good reputation as a trial lawyer and he would not turn defendants in trouble away.

His early clients included the local motorcycle gangs. Some colourful characters would appear in full gang regalia in the Harkness Henry reception area from time to time.

In his early years of practice Warren handled a series of high-profile trials involving some unsavoury allegations.  Warren was the lawyer of choice for one local gang and Warren made sure the new lawyers in the firm had the opportunity to junior him and gain valuable court experience.

As the senior gang members got older and moved into middle age and settled down Warren remained their lawyer.  They asked Warren to look after their wills, their conveyancing, their divorces and their relationship property cases.

Warren’s clients were loyal.

When I asked Warren what cases stood out for him, he mentioned a couple of criminal cases which had caused him many sleepless nights.  This was because he said that there was so much at stake for his client and their families.

The first was in relation to a young student who faced sexual assault charges.  It ultimately transpired that the complainant had made up the allegation completely. Warren said that there was so much at stake – the fact that a conviction would have ruined that young man’s life and the stress on his family made that a case he would never forget.  Without Warren’s persistence the result may have been quite different.

Needless to say he did not win any popularity contests acting for the defence in those types of cases and Warren appeared in hundreds of these types of cases.

Estate litigation

However, Warren did not limit himself to criminal cases.  He was in demand in a range of cases.  His most significant cases which pushed the boundaries of the law involved the liability of solicitors.  In two cases which went to the Court of Appeal he succeeded in establishing that a lawyer owed a duty of care to the client of the lawyer on the other side in giving advice on certifying a relationship property agreement. The received wisdom at that time was that a lawyer could only be sued by their own client.  Warren satisfied the Court of Appeal that the lawyer could also be sued by the client on the other side if he or she gave bad advice to their own client leading to a prenuptial agreement which was later set aside by the court as being unfair and not properly explained at the time of execution.

Most lawyers didn’t thank Warren for the developments he forged in this area of the law – it came home to roost when Harkness Henry was sued under the head of claim that Warren had established in the Court of Appeal.  Of course Warren had to act for the firm to defend the claim.

The good deal of Warren’s work came by word-of-mouth.  The hallmark of a very good lawyer is that other lawyers and judges recommend them to their own friends and family.  Warren received many clients this way.  He had a very well established estate litigation and family protection practice and it was his expertise in this area that attracted the recommendation by a Judge of Warren to act for an old friend of hers who was an Australian lawyer in relation to a novel claim by children against their mother who was still living, for lack of provision in their father’s will.

The family was divided and the mother was bitterly opposed to the claim.  The children gained some provision and Warren’s client was delighted with not only the successful outcome but the careful and empathetic way that Warren had handled the case.  She said Warren had gone over and above the call of duty and did a brilliant job – she also described him as a true gentleman and a delight to work with. It’s rare to get that sort of praise from a client who is also a lawyer.

Warren said the best times in his career was when he was working with another lawyer – he said he was happy to fashion the bullets and have someone else file.  He acted as mentor for many young Harkness Henry lawyers and always had time to discuss their cases.

Murray Branch and his litigation team at Harkness Henry will particularly miss his experience and wisdom.

There are many people who Warren will be remembered by for his approach and assistance in legal matters.  When he was in hospital earlier this year a nurse saw his name and came to visit him.  He had acted for her years before in a very bitter matrimonial dispute.  She said she was so grateful to him for getting her through that awful time.  There will be hundreds of people who would say exactly the same about Warren.

Law Society

Warren gave his time and expertise freely to the organised legal profession through his involvement in the Law Society.  It was through his gentle persuasion and opening of doors that I became president of the New Zealand Law Society – without Warren it simply wouldn’t have happened.

Warren served on the Hamilton District Law Society for almost 10 years and was an office holder for five years and president in 1987-88. It was through Warren’s negotiations and powers of persuasion that Tauranga practitioners, who had previously been part of the Auckland District Law Society, became part of the expanded Waikato Bay of Plenty District Law Society.

Warren knew almost everything there was to know about lawyers in the area – he sat on the Lawyers Disciplinary Committee for 15 years and was the inaugural chair of the standards committee which was responsible for the discipling and prosecution of lawyers in the Waikato Bay of Plenty area.

Even in the annual report in 1988 as president of Hamilton District Law Society he didn’t talk about himself but the talents of others.  In fact, his closing words in that report are warrenesque:

I have enjoyed immensely my year as president of your society.  It has been my privilege to lead a Council of able and enthusiastic practitioners, some of them many years my senior.  They have been most tolerant of my propensity to espouse some issues with an excess of enthusiasm while neglecting others.  They have supported me after the event where I have acted on my own initiative …

Warren was also an ardent supporter of the Waikato law school from its inception.  He established and persuaded the firm to fund the Harkness Henry annual lecture which was delivered by many prominent judges including the former Chief Justice, Dame Sian Elias, Dame Silvia Cartwright (a former partner in Harkness Henry) and Justice Joe Williams.  His contribution was recognised when he received an honorary doctorate from the law school in 2013.

The Waikato Bay of Plenty Law Society manager, Katie Robb, and Glenis Jamieson Warren’s old friend now retired but who was administrator for many years, spent yesterday in at the Law Society building (which is closed at the moment due to the Covid-19 alert level).  They went through to gather much of the information that I have used today – they wanted me to mention how highly Warren was regarded by the profession and described him as a lovely man and a true gentleman.  He helped out innumerable lawyers who got into trouble or just needed a hand.

Conclusion

As Wordsworth said:

That best portion of a man's life, his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love

Warren was kind and generous – it was those qualities that set him apart.  He will be missed by us all and will leave a huge gap.

Warren is survived by his wife, Anne and children Sarah, John  and Emma and his granddaughter Silvia.

Christine Grice joined Harkness Henry in 1981, eventually leading the firm’s commercial litigation team, and joining the partnership in 1985. In 2010 she resigned from the partnership of Harkness Henry to take up a permanent role as Executive Director of the New Zealand Law Society.

Last updated on the 1st July 2020