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Dress for success at the high court

Dress for success at the high court

Life in this office isn’t boring. You never know from one day to the next just what you will be dealing with. Why, only this morning I had to check an update to the Food Standards Code to see if there were any changes which might affect any of my clients. There weren’t, but your life will be enriched knowing that there is a proposed change to the definition of “meat pies”. From “meat pie means a pie containing no less than 250g/kg of meat” to “meat pie means a pie containing no less than 250g/kg of meat flesh”. Spot the difference and be glad. And that is the kind of detail that we lawyers deal with, day in and day out, though it’s usually a wee bit more complex than that.

I took the afternoon off a few days ago for one of my very rare appearances in court. What was worse, I had to do the whole dressing up thing: white horsehair wig (itchy), gown (heavy) and bands (a sort of white tie thingy that sits on top of your black jacket). All of this borrowed from my kind neighbours in our office building full of lawyers. Some people look great in a lawyer’s wig. Alas, I am not one of them. But it was worth it because Richard-the-Law-Clerk was admitted to the Bar and is now Richard-the-Staff-Solicitor. In every courtroom, there is a wooden bar between the public end and the business end. When you have been “admitted to the bar” you are allowed to go past the bar and act as… you guessed it, a barrister. Not to be confused with barista.

I had forgotten how many hoops you have to jump through before you get admitted. Not only do you have to have a law degree, but you have to have references from several former employers (a tall order for a young person) and people who have known you for a long time, and also pass the dreaded post-graduate qualification relating to professional legal studies. That’s where they teach you how to draft court documents, how to argue for your clients in a court case – it goes on and on and on.

Still, at least Richard didn’t have the problem I had when I was applying for admission: one of my key referees was in prison at the time as a result of matters unrelated to my employment in his company. It didn’t look good. We had to work through alternatives so that I could have a character witness relating to that particular job – in the end, one of my former staff members gave me a reference, much to his mirth.

When I was first admitted we still had to dress up in wigs and gowns to appear at the High Court. I remember going into the No 2 courtroom in Auckland for the bankruptcy list: its roof is panelled in kauri – beautiful, and in keeping with the dress. And then I looked at the poor bewildered individuals who were about to be bankrupted in this totally alien environment. These days, we have to dress up in gowns over a black suit only when we go to the High Court or Court of Appeal and we don’t have to wear gowns in the District Court. But a court in full ceremonial dress is an amazing sight – and it does rather remind you that being admitted is a lifetime deal – there is no turning back. You’re a barrister and solicitor and Officer of the Court until you die, unless you do something really awful and get struck off. But it doesn’t mean you actually have to go there – after all, my objective is to keep my clients out of court! That’s much more fun for all of us.

This article is intended for general information, and should not be relied on as specific legal advice. You should consult a lawyer for advice relating to your own specific legal problems. Rae Nield can be contacted at raenield@marketinglaw.co.nz.


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