Laurie Southwick was the 17th elected President of the New Zealand Law Society. An expert litigator, during the 1970s he became one of the first specialists in the emerging field of planning law.
Born in Fairlie in 1916, Laurie Southwick attended Rotorua High School and graduated LLB at Auckland University in 1942. He was admitted as a barrister and solicitor in 1943 while he was on leave from the Army, where he served with the 3rd New Zealand Division in the Pacific theatre from 1941 to 1944.
From 1945 to 1956 he practised with Tompkins Wake in Hamilton and was involved in criminal and civil litigation. In 1950 he joined Nicholson, Gribbin and Co in Auckland, becoming a partner in 1952 and specialising in administrative law. Not long after leaving to practise as a barrister, he was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1970.
Laurie Southwick was one of the first lawyers to specialise in planning law, which really only started to become an area of specialist practice in the 1970s. He acted for a number of (then) borough councils, particularly in applications and objections to plans both for councils and landowners. Law Stories (LexisNexis Ltd, 2003) says a newspaper report on an appearance before the Mount Wellington Borough Council gave him the title of “Silver Tongued Larry Southwick”.
In 1975 Laurie Southwick was one of the three people appointed as the founding members of the Waitangi Tribunal, as an appointee of the Minister of Justice. As such he was involved in hearing the first claim before the Tribunal on 30 May and 1 June 1977, by PJ Hawke and others of Ngati Whatua relating to fishing rights in the Waitemata Harbour and use of the Fisheries Regulations.
He was a joint author in 1964 with JH Luxford of Luxford’s Liquor Laws of New Zealand, 3rd edition and then in 1983 with Alan Dormer and GR Halford of The Liquor Laws of New Zealand (Butterworths) which won the second JR Northey Memorial Book Award. He was Chairman of the Royal Commission on Containers from 1971-1972.
Involvement with the organised profession
Laurie Southwick was closely involved in the organised legal profession. He was President of the Auckland District Law Society in 1972 and then from 1977 to 1980 he was New Zealand Law Society President. He was also the first President of the Commonwealth Lawyers’ Association, a Council member of the International Bar Association and an honorary member of the American Bar Association. He received the CBE in 1994 for services to the legal profession and community.
He was a great proponent of continuing legal education. While he was President of the New Zealand Law Society it appointed its first education director. In the Law Society’s 1977 annual report he outlined the reasons he saw for improving the quality of continuing education:
“As members of a profession, we must recognise that a citizen who needs a lawyer is entitled to good advice and service. The client should be able to expect not that his lawyer will have all the answers all of the time, but that his lawyer will recognise the nature of his problem and how it should be dealt with. What is more, in our rapidly changing society, the client is entitled to expect that his lawyer will have given time and energy to maintaining his competence as both a lawyer and a manager. That is each lawyer’s, and every lawyer’s, responsibility.
“I welcome, therefore, the increasing numbers of seminars conducted by the New Zealand Law Society and some district law societies; the proposals for better training of young lawyers; and the Society’s new management advice service.”
Writing in Law Stories (LexisNexis, 2003, pages 389-390), former Law Society Executive Director Alan Ritchie said Laurie Southwick had a keen appreciation of the dawning computer revolution. “One of the uses he saw for it was the establishment of computerised legal information and retrieval systems. He also drove forward an earlier idea for the establishment of a Law Foundation.” In the 1978 New Zealand Law Society annual report, Laurie Southwick showed his vision for the profession:
“Because practising the law is largely processing information, we as lawyers need to consider now the changes that computer technology is bringing and inevitably will continue to bring. Computer services will become an increasingly vital part of our needs. Thus we must now consider those needs and the means of fulfilling them in order to avoid having to make hasty, costly and even wrong decisions later.”
His long-range planning vision
This vision was further developed in the last annual report to which he contributed as President, in 1979:
“I suggest we should follow the example of business, industry and the government and concern ourselves with long-range planning … I suggest that a long range planning committee should be set up. The challenge to such a committee is enormous. Change has never occurred so rapidly in our society, or in the legal profession, as it is now. Complexities in the law that had not been contemplated ten years ago are now reality. There is no reason to believe that this rate of change is slowing. On the other hand, with the problems I have mentioned pressing for attention, plus others associated with increased advertising, the possibility of speciality certification, and even challenges to our own self-regulation, the rate of change could be accelerating. So I strongly recommend the establishment of a New Zealand Law Society long range planning committee.”
In 1980, a future planning committee was set up in response. It was made up of Sylvia Cartwright, James Guthrie, Colin Holdaway and Bruce Slane. It was expanded in 1981 to include three non-lawyer members.
Laurie Southwick and his wife had three children. One, Maureen Southwick, was appointed Queen's Counsel and then a Family Court Judge.
He died in Auckland on 1 January 1999. It appears that Laurie Southwick Parade, Whangaparaoa 0930 is named after him.