New Zealand Law Society - Philip Hunter Cook, 1952 - 2010

Philip Hunter Cook, 1952 - 2010

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Philip Cook who died recently as been described as an “outstanding lawyer … in the top rank of those doing professional indemnity work”.

Phil Cook was a barrister who focused particularly on civil and commercial litigation, with emphasis on insurance law, adminstrative law and medical law.

Among the qualities that made him an outstanding lawyer were his thorough knowledge of legal principles, meticulous preparation, clarity of expression, emphathy for his clients and a fierce determination to secure the best outcome.

Former colleague and long-time friend Kit Toogood QC, speaking at the funeral, said Phil Cook was assiduous in covering the background of work he did.

“[In his work] it was necessary for Phil to not only develop an expertise in the principles of law related to insurance, fiduciary relationships and negligence, but also to have a comprehensive understanding of the environment in which the case arose, whether it was legal practice, accounting, sharebroking, architecture, engineering, banking or commerce. Phil also had an expertise in medico-legal work where, among other things, the depth and sensitivity of his reports to hospitals and health boards were highly regarded.

“It was not for nothing that he was asked by the New Zealand Law Society to lead a heavily attended travelling seminar on professional liability in 2004, and to repeat an updating tour in March 2009. The papers he prepared for those seminars are models of their kind: comprehensive, meticulously researched, and undoubtedly correct.”

Phil Cook grew up in Dunedin and studied law at the University of Otago. He was admitted to the bar there in 1965 and first went to work at the respected Dunedin firm of Cook Allan & Co, in which both his father and grandfather had been partners.

After a period in London where, among other things he was marshall to a judge of the High Court, he returned to New Zealand in 1981 and joined the Wellington firm of Young Swan McKay, soon to became Young Swan Morison McKay and then Kensington Swan. Kit Toogood says when he joined the firm a few years later Phil Cook wrote him a note of welcome saying how much he was looking forward to working with him. “It was typically kind and generous, and the first of many such thoughtful gestures, often accompanied by a bottle of champagne…”

Phil Cook was for some years head of litigation at Kensington Swan. He acted for and advised a large number of law firms, accounting firms, actuaries, architects and other professionals with respect to claims made against them, and also worked on claims with the Medical Council and other professional regulatory bodies.

He continued to practise in those areas after he became a barrister sole in 1999, adding leaky building issues, law society disciplinary tribunals, claims made to the Health and Disability Commissioner, and maritime issues among others to his portfolio.

Kit Toogood spoke of Phil’s legendary capacity for hard work which led to a song of tribute at his 35th birthday party based on Eight Days a Week!

“It was my misfortune that I only ever worked with him on one case, when he invited me to help him represent the interests of his client, the New Zealand Rugby Football Union, in the 1985 injunction case. Cookie asked Douglas White to lead the case and to handle the legal issues, while he and I had responsibility for putting together the evidence. Once the Court of Appeal directed that the case should go ahead, we had only nine days in which to prepare for what was a major and very high-profile hearing. It was then that I learned that Cookie and I shared not only a great love of sport, especially cricket, but also that we did our best work between about 11pm and 5am.

“Basing our efforts on a diet of potato chips and peanuts stolen from the partners’ lounge, supplemented occasionally by the best fare the Wadestown fish and chip shop had to offer, we put in many all-nighters. Some of these were forced upon us by the need to have late night telephone conferences with Ces Blazey and Danie Craven, the latter becoming increasingly agitated as Cookie gently – but firmly – advised the South African legend that his beloved All Black tour was under serious threat.”

Phil Cook’s passion for hard work carried over to the sporting sphere where he was a determined marathon runner and he also enjoyed golf and tennis.

He was devoted to his family – his children Harry, Toby and Amelia, and his wife, fellow lawyer Helen McQueen.

Kit Toogood said Phil Cook exemplified throughout his career the “best traditions of the legal profession”.

An indication of the high regard in which Phil Cook was held in the profession was evident from the large number of judges and lawyers who attended his funeral.

This obituary was first published in Council Brief, June 2010.

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