New Zealand Law Society - Alistair ‘Jock’ Nicolson 1936-2020

Alistair ‘Jock’ Nicolson 1936-2020

The following is the eulogy given by Alan MacKenzie at Alistair Nicolson’s belated funeral in Wellington. Jock – as he was always known due to his Scottish heritage – was a much-loved lawyer in the city and a former Vice President of the New Zealand Law Society. He died on 8 July at the age of 83.

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Alistair, or Jock as many of us always knew him, who died recently at the age of 83, was a Wellingtonian through and through. He was born in the city in 1936, the youngest child with two older sisters. He attended Wellington College and then progressed to Victoria University. As Jock told the story, his decision to enrol in the Law Faculty was something of a chance one. That was a sound decision, as Jock was well suited to the law.

Jock joined Chapman Tripp & Co as a search clerk in 1956. The firm was then, as now, one of the largest firms in New Zealand, though at that time it had only had six partners. He was admitted in 1960. In 1962, Jock was part of the team which established the Auckland office of the firm and he stayed there until 1964, before returning to Wellington.

Jock Nicolson

In 1966, he took a year off to travel on a camping trip through Europe.

He returned to Chapman Tripp, where he was involved in establishing the Whangarei office, before returning to Wellington. I first met him when I joined Chapman Tripp in 1967, as a very junior lawyer. Jock became a partner in Chapman Tripp in 1968.

I had a reminder of the passage of the years with the completion recently of the Commercial Bay Precinct, and our firm’s move to offices there. I recall that Jock was heavily involved in the legal work on its predecessor, the Downtown development.

A great adventure

In 1970, he and several other partners, led by Kemp Stone, left to form their own firm, Stone Kurta & Co, which in 1971 became Stone & Co. I went with them. That was a momentous move, in the very settled environment of the legal profession at that time. It took courage, and Jock was never short of that quality.

That was the start of a great adventure, and a very happy period in the practice of the law for all of us. I know that Jock looked back fondly on our years as Stone & Co. Those days were, for Jock, and for all of us, among the most enjoyable of our years in practice.

In 1984, we entered the next phase of our professional lives when we embarked on the merger to form Rudd Watts and Stone. That move was also a momentous one.

I treasure the years which I shared in partnership with Jock. He was a valued partner and friend. He was a lawyer of great ability, and enormous professional integrity. He held the highest professional and personal standards. He was uncompromising in his observance of those standards. He imparted those high standards to others. But he also had great sense of fun. His booming laugh from the other end of the office is an enduring memory.

Passion for ethics and standards

Jock gave back to his profession by being elected to the council of the Wellington District Law Society. He joined the council in 1984, and served in the offices of that council until his year as President of the Society in 1991. He then went on to serve on the council of the New Zealand Law Society, as Vice President and Treasurer, and as convener of the Fidelity Fund at the time when the Renshaw Edwards defalcations imposed an unprecedented burden on that Fund.

His work in the elected offices of the Law Society led Jock in a change of direction. From 1992, he scaled back his involvement in the firm, to devote his energies to serving the Society as a part-time employee, as secretary of several of the Society’s committees and of the New Zealand Law Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal. His passion for maintaining the ethics and standards of the profession drew him to this aspect of the Society’s work. This was work of great importance for him. He remained at the Society until 2005, while also remaining closely involved in the firm, as a consultant.

Jock was a people person, who developed a strong empathy with all those he worked with. The loyalty his clients showed to him is a fine tribute to the wisdom of his advice, and the strength of his personal relationships with them. He also earned the respect and affection of the host of lawyers and support staff with whom he worked, over many years. His wise counsel was much sought.  He acted as a mentor to many.

In later years, when Jock had stepped back from active practice, the firm, now MinterEllisonRuddWatts, very sensibly retained the benefit of his wisdom and professionalism, and his empathy with the young. He was an elder statesman.  He conducted classes for the new law clerks and young lawyers. Those were a means for him to pass on to a new generation the traditions and ethics of the profession.  They were also a means for him to keep up to date with the gossip! Many people, including my own two sons, have benefited greatly from Jock’s experience and wisdom in this way. They speak very highly of Jock’s role in their professional development.

John McCay, a senior partner in MinterEllisonRuddWatts, in an email he sent to staff advising of Jock’s passing, summed up Jock’s contribution to the firm very eloquently.  I can do no better than share part of it with you. John said:

“Jock has been the living embodiment of the trusted adviser.  He has been a scholar, a gentleman, a teacher, a musician, a mentor, someone who cared deeply for the people around him, who has been devoted to his profession and to helping others, who always had a twinkle in his eye and was never afraid to embrace a bold shirt/tie combination.

“He will be sorely missed, but we are the richer for having had him with us for so long.”

I heartily endorse those fine words.

Serving the community

Jock had interests outside the law. I touch on those only briefly.

He served the community more widely, in a number of roles. He performed voluntary service for Aged Concern, the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, the Samaritans, and other community causes. Jock gave freely of his time and expertise, without any thought of self-promotion.

He was a very talented musician, who could well have had a career in that field if he had so chosen. He valued greatly his musical involvement, playing in his quartet, and attending orchestral concerts. He passed on his talents to his son Donald.

He was also a keen bridge player, in a group which has played together over many years.

Jock was proud of his Scottish heritage. He kept in close contact with his wider family on Skye, and visited there often.

Jock loved the Marlborough Sounds. In his bachelor days, he was a regular over many summers at the Portage. Later, he and Lorna built their own retreat nearby in Kenepuru Sound, where they enjoyed many family holidays.

When Jock was at Chapman Tripp, there was a young secretary from England working there on her OE. She had left the firm before I arrived, so I did not know her then. Jock seemed to me to be a confirmed bachelor. So it was something of a surprise to me when that young lady reappeared in his life a few years later. The rest is history. Jock and Lorna married, and then Kirsty and Donald came along. Jock and Lorna are rightly very proud of them, and their achievements.

Jock suffered a stroke some years ago. His response to that setback was typical Nicolson stoicism and determination. It befell him not long before Kirsty’s wedding. He resolved to recover, so that he would be able to walk her down the aisle.  That he was able to do so speaks volumes for his strength of character and his resolve. Happily, he was able to enjoy more years, and to become a doting grandfather to Ella and Alex.

But alas, the final battle was too swift and severe for him to combat.

So the time has come to say farewell Jock, good and loyal friend. We are all richer for your presence in our lives.

Alan MacKenzie was a partner in Stone & Co and Rudd Watts & Stone from 1971 to 2000, then a barrister from 2001 to 2003. He was a Judge of the High Court from 2004 to 2015.

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