Queen’s Counsel Alan Hassall died in Hamilton on 6 January 2014 aged 88.
Mr Hassall had a long and successful career in the law until his retirement because of ill health in 2012. He was renowned for his tenacity and ability to manage a large workload, while always remaining accessible to clients and other members of the legal profession.
Alan Hassall was born in Timaru on 10 September 1925, the son of William and Amy Hassall. His parents were farmers and his upbringing resulted in a life-long passion for farming. Mr Hassall was educated at Waimate High School before attending Canterbury University College from 1944 to 1947. He graduated LLB in 1949, having spent time from 1946 to 1948 serving as a legal staff officer in the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Japan where he obtained the rank of Captain. He left the Army with the (then) relatively uncommon skill of being able to touch type, and was well known for typing his own pleadings in his subsequent career. Colleagues say this ability, along with his use of a fax machine, meant the pleadings could arrive at any hour of the day.
He married Shirley Whiting in 1951 and the couple had two children, but later divorced.
Alan started out in private practice in the Hamilton firm which is now Harkness Henry. He moved on to partnership with another Waikato identity, the late Alan Houston QC, and was later one of the founders of the Hamilton firm which became known as O’Neill Allen & Clark before it merged with Norris Ward McKinnon in April 2001. He commenced practice as a barrister sole in 1979 and was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1987.
An active participant in law society matters, Mr Hassall was President of the Hamilton District Law Society from 1975 to 1976, and also a member of the New Zealand Law Society Council at the same time.
Hamilton Queen’s Counsel Philip Morgan was in chambers with Mr Hassall from 1998 until he retired in 2012. Mr Morgan says Alan Hassall was his mentor.
“Hard work and attention to detail were very much the hallmarks of his practice, along with a sympathy for the underdog which led him to take on some unpopular and seemingly hopeless causes which he turned into personal triumphs he was much too modest to trumpet.”
Mr Morgan says Mr Hassall was a very humble man and this led him to downplay his own part in some of his cases.
“Notwithstanding, I knew him to be a formidable advocate.”
Mr Morgan says Alan Hassall’s humility is well illustrated by an incident shortly after he joined Mr Hassall’s chambers as a junior barrister.
“I came into my office the weekend after I had commenced practice from his chambers to find him in my office doing the vacuuming. He seemed almost bemused by my reaction of being embarrassed by having Hamilton’s leading silk doing my cleaning and insisting we employ a cleaner to do it.”
Former Waikato Crown Solicitor Quentin Almao knew Mr Hassall for over 50 years. He describes him as a “true forensic fisherman” who left no stone unturned and was renowned for doing a thorough job when it came to litigation.
“You always knew where you were with Alan, who was a lawyer of the old school. He would act for anyone who came in the door and there were many cases where Alan took no or a very small fee. He could turn his hand to anything and had a wide general practice.”
New Zealand Law Society Executive Director and Hamilton practitioner Christine Grice worked with Alan Hassall on a number of cases.
“I juniored Alan in several civil cases as a young lawyer in Hamilton. He was also opposing counsel in cases later on in my career. He was a very good leader as he allowed you to participate fully and take responsibility for part of the case while always being there to keep an eye on things.
“He was a prodigious worker and never seemed to sleep. He had a huge workload and never said ‘No’. I recall one case that we were doing in Auckland. We had been working until midnight and we finally called it a night. Then, at about 3am, I heard something being pushed under my hotel door: it was Alan’s sixth amended statement of claim. It was always an art to estimate the length of a trial if Alan was on the other side.”
As well as recognition of his legal achievements by appointment to the rank of Queen’s Counsel, Mr Hassall was awarded the New Zealand 1990 Medal.
“Alan loved the law – that and his family were his whole life,” Quentin Almao says. “He did have time for golf – until he could not play any longer – and his farm.”