Justice Wild says he was so young when he went into sole practice in 1976 his father (former chief justice Sir Richard Wild) joked later that “he was surprised that that I had surprised at the bar.” But as a man who likes “paddling his own canoe,” this career path suited Justice Wild perfectly and he survived and then thrived, being appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1993 and High Court Judge in 1998. In February 2011 he was appointed Judge of the Court of Appeal.
After graduating from Victoria University in 1968, Justice Wild worked at Bell Gully before setting up as a barrister “on the first of April 1976”.
“It was very unusual thing to do,” Justice Wild says, “there were only two other young barristers in Wellington at the time so it was a completely different type of legal profession [then].”
One of the principle attractions of sole practice was the independence afforded to barristers.
“If you’re a barrister you’re very much an individual,” according to Justice Wild.
“You really are truly independent, you don’t have the loyalties to important clients that sometimes plague litigators in firms. I think the true independence and objectivity that barristers bring is one of the great attributes of the bar.”
Another benefit was the chance to meet a “huge variety of people from lots of different backgrounds... much more so than I ever would have done if I’d decided to take a partnership in a firm.”
Being so inexperienced, starting out it was difficult to find clients.
“The first two or three years I didn’t make much money at all. Gradually, from the most unexpected places briefs began arriving, including from a lot of country solicitors in small towns like Taihape. Firms who didn’t have the capacity to do their own court work, or didn’t want to do it, they were solicitors. I formed a lot of very happy connections with grass roots solicitors in the countryside.”
The work that initially came his way was criminal work, but gradually as civil work came in he made the switch, “because it was more intellectually fulfilling and obviously more remunerative.”
Justice Wild was also involved in a lot of commissions of inquiry, “such as the Abbottsford landslip inquiry, the marginal land board inquiry, the Wellington District Court inquiry.”
His 22 years at the bar were “very, very happy, rewarding and interesting ones,” Justice Wild says. “It was a very happy chapter of my life and I didn’t ever regret taking that step.”
Moving to the bench, Justice Wild found the drama of trial work the most exciting aspect of the job.
“It’s the drama, the colour and the excitement of the jury trial. The cut and thrust, the anticipation of the verdict; it’s theatre in the coutroom and very satisfying as a judge.”
Working as a judge has also strengthened his faith in the justice system, Justice Wild says.
“I’m a great believer in the jury system in New Zealand. I think on the whole they get it pretty right.”
Outside the law Justice Wild’s major passion in life has been mountaineering. He credits mountaineering with giving him the strength of character to cope some of the more unpleasant aspects of judging, such as presiding over murder trials.
“It never really worried me as it did some judges because I’ve seen a few people die in crevasses and by falling down mountains in my time. This made me a fairly robust individual.”
Having climbed in New Zealand, Pakistan, China and South America in the past, nowadays Justice Wild finds it hard to fit in much climbing.
“I would be exaggerating if I said I’d done much climbing recently.”
Nonetheless Justice Wild has continued to enjoy adventures in the outdoors. Recently he has been tramping in Westland and on the day LawTalk called he was preparing to fly later that day to Canada for two weeks of back-country skiing.
So far in the Court of Appeal Justice Wild has already heard three cases and comments on the huge difference between high court trial judging and appellate judging.
“But I’m enjoying it so far.”
This article was first published in LawTalk 766, 25 February 2011.