A long-serving member of the profession was lost when John Joseph died on 3 April 2017. An enduring friend and professional colleague of John’s, Austin Forbes QC says “He was one of a kind, popular and held in high regard. In conjunction with his substantial farming and estate practice in particular, he was regarded as one of the best trust lawyers in New Zealand, which I can also attest to”.
John was a law clerk, solicitor and partner at Duncan Cotterill, Christchurch for 48 years in all, 40 of these as a partner. Austin says he had a large number of loyal clients. Notwithstanding that his work mode was somewhat “late to arrive, late to leave” he was very thorough in his professional work and dedicated to his clients’ affairs. In John’s papers at home unearthed by his wife, Christine Darling, after his death was this piece, which Austin says was typical of John:
There may be smarter lawyers than me
There may be cheaper lawyers than me
But there won’t be one that is both cheaper and smarter
Outside of work John much enjoyed having a few Heinekens in the company of friends and work colleagues which, especially in his early years as a solicitor, included organising pranks, often in cahoots with Phil Taylor, usually implemented at the expense of some colleague and not necessarily with the full approval of the reigning Godfather of the firm, Peter Wynn Williams.
At a tribute function for him held the day before his funeral Duncan Cotterill recognised John’s predilection for his favourite brew by having a dedicated label designed for the numerous bottles of it which were served, endorsed “Valued & Respected Colleague, Friend & Mentor”, which indeed he was says Austin.
John’s main leisure activity, not to say passion, was fly fishing. Austin recalls in the mid-1970s, when he and John were neighbours living at Scarborough, on one of his fishing trips to the Timaru River, Lake Hawea yielded to his rod no less than 35 trout. Over the years, following regular weekend fishing forays, John would not infrequently call in on friends, both those he knew well and not so well, fairly late on a Sunday evening offering one or more of the weekend’s catch. Lake Taupo was the venue for many well-equipped and provisioned trips organised by John for fishing with various angler friends in the winter and for fishing and camping post-Christmas with his family.
The law was also very much a family affair for John. His wife, Christine, his brothers, Howard and Philip, and his daughter, Justine, are all lawyers. Christine has been a solicitor at Duncan Cotterill for 25 years. Howard is in practice on his own account. He was an All Black in 1971 against the British Lions. Philip has had a distinguished career, both nationally and internationally, as a leading academic lawyer and text writer in the field of constitutional and administrative law. Justine practises as an in-house solicitor.
Howard says that his reflections about John are that he was really two people, or rather a blend of two characters; one the urban professional of suit and tie, the other the country man at ease with nature and all its moods, no more than when fishing a high country lake or a Taupo stream. He loved both spheres of his life and was very good at each. He was a peerless fly fisherman as a result of which he developed quite a number of life-long friendships. Fishing trips were often to a property that he “owned” as a co-trustee of a family trust or because the owner was a client. Howard recalls being the butt of one of John’s many pranks at a shearer’s quarters on one occasion where the stupid faces that Howard was pulling were unknowingly the subject of photos which John was taking. These were then handed around the office at Duncan Cotterill the following Monday morning.
Philip endorses Howard’s comments. John was a passionate fly fisherman who literally had to be prised from the river bed, even as darkness fell. Philip accompanied John on many fishing excursions when both were in their 20s and 30s, and recounts that they were some of his fondest memories. John compiled a collage of fishing photos dating from the 1970s. In later years Philip would often marvel how young they once were. Like Howard, he was also the victim of a brotherly prank. A somewhat revealing photograph of Philip taken on a fishing trip to Molesworth Station did the rounds at a Law Society dinner held the Friday following. It was reported that the ladies could be heard to twitter.
Philip also recounts John’s prowess as a consummate lawyer. John acted for Philip and his wife, Ann. Philip recalls that John had the ability to strategise in ways that always paid dividends. At John’s funeral several of his former clients reflected that John was not only a marvellous lawyer but also a dear friend who would be sorely missed. He will, indeed.
John’s death brings to an end 130 years collective, unbroken service to the law and the legal profession by three brothers. Including the 28 years Christine has practised as a solicitor and the 14 years Justine has held a practising certificate, the total time span is some 172 years in all.
John is survived by Christine, his daughters, Justine, Annabel and Olivia and their mother, Pat, and four grandchildren.
- Austin Forbes QC, Christine Darling, Howard Joseph, Philip Joseph.
This was first published in the August 2017 issue of Canterbury Tales, the magazine of the Canterbury-Westland branch of the New Zealand Law Society.