A 150th birthday is an important milestone, and the New Zealand Law Society is acknowledging the moment in a fitting manner when it hits 150 on 3 September. It’s a long-lived institution, but within the practice of law there are some which are older still. In fact, there are 24 law firms which have been in continuous existence for over 150 years.
Our criteria for inclusion in the following list is that a firm must always have been in existence. Names change, partners and directors come and go, but there must be a continuing entity. The oldest firm, Treadwells, began before the Treaty of Waitangi on 3 January 1840 when Richard Davies Hanson stepped ashore as the first qualified lawyer. Just before he left New Zealand in August 1846 for Australia, Hanson joined Robert Hart in legal practice.
The second-longest established firm, Bell Gully, has a slightly shaky grip on its longevity status. The founder, Sir Frederick Whitaker, arrived late in 1840 and started practice in Kororareka (now Russell) before moving to Auckland in 1841. He was appointed a judge of the County Court until 1844, but there is evidence that he continued to work as a barrister. From December 1846 to early 1848, Whitaker took his family to England. Julie Millen who is the author of the firm’s history, The Story of Bell Gully Buddle Weir 1840 – 1990, has said it is believed his practice was continued while he was overseas. We’ve included them on that understanding. Things seriously got going in 1861 when Whitaker joined Thomas Russell in partnership.
Our list also shows the year a firm adopted its current name (if known). Jackson Russell has used the same name for 155 years. Exact commencement dates are elusive and the age in years can best be interpreted by adding “th” – so this is Treadwell’s 179th year, etc. The list has been compiled from many sources, but errors and omissions are gratefully accepted as usual.
|Name||Beginning||Age in years||Current name adopted|
|Gallaway Cook Allan||1859||160||2001|
|Pitt & Moore||1864||155||1879|
|Hannan & Seddon||1867||152||1920|
|Gresson Dorman & Co||1867||152|
|Whitcombe Guinness & Kitchingham||1867||152|
|Sainsbury Logan & Williams||1875||144||1900|
|Arthur Watson Savage||1880||139||1984|
|Jack Riddet Tripe||1881||138|
|Weston Ward & Lascelles||1883||136|
|Rhodes & Co||1884||135||1884|
|Innes Dean – Tararua Law||1884||135|
|Ross Dowling Marquet Griffin||1887||132|
|Johnston Prichard Fee||1887||132||1948|