By Ian Cameron
Laurence Michael O’Reilly, who died on 15 January 1998, was a practising barrister and solicitor until appointed the Commissioner for Children in 1994. After his primary and secondary school education in his home town of Timaru, he attended the University of Canterbury, studying part-time and completing his law degree in 1963. He was admitted as a solicitor just two weeks after turning 21 in February of that year, and was admitted as a barrister a year later.
His whole practising career was spend in one firm, now Cameron and Company, with which he had started work as a law clerk while studying. He became a partner in 1967 and, although he would undoubtedly have achieved success as a barrister sole, he never serously contemplated that career change, because of loyalty to and friendship with his partners.
His interest and expertise in family law – as practitioner, lecturer and co-author of a text – are well-known. He was, however, far from being a specialist. Before the passing of the Accident Compensation Act, he acted for both plaintiffs and defendants in personal injury cases. He also conducted criminal trials, always for the defence, including some charges of murder and manslaughter.
He had a particular interest in the law of contract and could well have specialised in this area had the opportunities presented themselves. He was always particularly diligent and thorough in his research, never relying solely on his extensive knowledge and memory, even though the case might be on all fours with another recently completed one.
Laurie O’Reilly was a man of high principles, and never compromised them or his client’s interests. A fearless advocate, both in court and espousing other causes, he never courted popularity and would not shirk responsibility. While the legal profession can claim him as its own, his influence went much further. His passing is a loss not only to the law but also to the general community, particularly to children and their parents throughout New Zealand, but most of all to his wife Kay and children Chris and Lauren to whom the heartfelt sympathy of the profession is extended.
This obituary was first published in LawTalk 491, 2 February 1998, page 3.