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Mentoring of younger lawyers

29 November 2019

I was most interested to read the article on Trevor Booth (“Retiring from practising law at 90”, LawTalk 934, November 2019).

I had a few dealings with him when I was in private practice in Whakatane and always found him unfailingly professional and pleasant to deal with.

As a ‘product’ of those earlier times in the law – albeit 15 or so years younger than Trevor – I recall the earlier times of ‘handshake, word is my bond’ well. I also recall that in the provincial areas in general practice, it was not uncommon – indeed expected – that you would do just about whatever work came in the door, whether it be court appearances, conveyancing and so forth.

I also agree what he is saying about the mentoring of younger lawyers. When I was in my first legal partnership at McVeagh Fleming in Auckland, I was very lucky to have as two mentors Maurice Hunt and Colin Holdaway and soon learned ‘the things I did not get taught in law school’. One discussion I will always recall with Colin was when he asked me one day “which is the most important – the duty to your client, yourself or your fellow practitioners?” I of course answered that is was the duty to the client, whereupon he chuckled and said, “all you young chaps say that, but it is actually your duty to yourself”. He explained it to me thus: “You must always get the legal advice to your client correct, and never ‘wing it’ as if you get it wrong then the client will come after you, so in looking after yourself you are also looking after the client.”

When I left Auckland in the early 1970s and came down to Whakatane to join what was then Buddle Harvey, I had been told that court work would not be required. However, when I arrived I was asked by the senior partner Joe Buddle whether I wanted “the good news or the bad news first”. I opted for the bad first and he said that the lawyer who had been doing the court had left but the “good” was that he was sure I could handle it. So I was thrown in the deep end, not having done court work before, but amazingly soon discovered I really enjoyed it and so developed a mixed practice of court and general conveyancing – even some Māori Land Court appearances.

I suspect that is increasingly rare in these specialist days, but probably still exists in smaller towns.

However, in community law I have rediscovered the delights of dealing with pretty well everything that comes in the door.

The modern LLB is of course very different from that I did in the 60s where there were no elective options.

David Sparks
Senior Solicitor, Baywide Community Law Service, Whakatane.

Last updated on the 29th November 2019