New Zealand Law Society - Sir Alexander Gray KC, 1860 - 1933

Sir Alexander Gray KC, 1860 - 1933

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Sir Alexander Gray was the fourth President of the New Zealand Law Society.

Born of Scots parents at New Plymouth in 1860, Alexander Gray was educated in Wellington and entered the Crown Law Office as a cadet at the age of fourteen. Two years later he was articled to HD Bell in the firm of Bell and Izard and he was admitted to the Bar in 1881.

He entered practice at Greytown as junior partner in the firm of Beard and Gray, and returned to Wellington in 1886 to join JP Campbell in partnership. He remained in the same firm, known as Gray and Sladden in later years, for the rest of his life, the change in the law whereby silks were debarred from practice as solicitors not applying to those of his vintage (1912).

Succeeding Skerrett as President in 1926, he con­tinued to hold the office until his death. He presided over the first three Legal Conferences - of 1928, 1929 and 1930 - and received the honour of knighthood in the New Years honours list 1933. He died on 28 April of that year.

BeII wrote in the New Zealand Law Journal in January:

"Since the creation by the Act of 1896 of a Council representative of the profession, there have been only four Presidents. The precedent created by his Knighthood may be followed in future, as is now the practice in regard to Presidents of the Incorporated Law Society in England, but he is the first and the grant to him is of an honour he has himself won by his own merit and by his public service."

The Guarantee Fund was the major achievement of Gray's term of office. Another burning issue of the day was the controversy with the Public Trustee about the latter's advertising, which was considered to be unfair. At one point this was countered by the rather undignified expedient of official advertising of the services of the profession as such. The newspapers benefitted. Ultimately the rift was healed over a dinner at the Hotel St George, Wellington, under the auspices of the Manager of Butterworth and Co. The newspapers ceased to benefit and in retaliation refrained for a period from publishing the names of counsel in the reports of court proceedings. Thus was J. Meltzer, now the Wellington Coroner, deprived of recognition of his reputedly record sequence of acquittals of clients indicted on criminal charges. Happily, relations with both the Public Trust Office and the Press are now much more harmonious.

As President, as indeed in his court work, Gray was not noted for despatch, for at the outset of the formal proceedings he tended to read the relevant papers in extenso, and indeed - or, so contemporaries report, it often seemed-for the first time. Nonetheless he was a distinguished President and his a fruitful term of office.

By Sir Richard Wild, in the chapter "Seven New Zealand Presidents", Portrait of a Profession, New Zealand Law Society, Wellington 1969, pages 171 to 172.

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