William Spring – a passion for people and the law

William Spring’s passion for fostering connections between people is apparent to anyone who has met him. He has long been a champion of collegiality, for gathering people around him, and for helping others.

William Spring

His desire to engage with those around him can be neatly encapsulated by the business cards he had specially made up to take with him on a trip to Russia a few years ago. They had his name and profession printed on them in Cyrillic, along with little kiwi and silver fern logos. They led him into many interesting conversations with those he met on his travels – “It was a great icebreaker,” he says.

Law News caught up with Mr Spring, who recently stepped down from ADLS’s Council after ten years of service, as he reflected on his long and varied career and looked ahead to the next stages.

Early days on the job

Mr Spring began his legal career in 1973 at what is now Davenports (in those days known as Davenport Buxton Gibson McHardy and Partners).

“The firm had its offices in the General Building, and Meredith Connell was on the ground floor. My very first task, on my first day at work, was to do a settlement with Meredith Connell. I did the settlement but when I got back to the office, my partner asked me, ‘Did you get the key?’ I had not even realised I should have done so, so I had to go back again, which was a bit embarrassing.”

Then, one day, he received a phone call from a litigation partner at Simpson Coates and Clapshaw (now Simpson Grierson), who asked him whether he wanted to have a go at litigation. “‘Absolutely!’ I said, as I’d begun to suspect that conveyancing was not really for me.”

While he immediately took to litigation, he says that making your first appearances in court in those days could be “a bit horrifying”.

“You would turn up to court with 20 files, it really was sink or swim. I don’t think it is so bad now. The judicial officers are more polite than some of the old magistrates of the past.”

By way of example, Mr Spring shared a story about appearing in the old Magistrates’ Court in Courthouse Lane before the well-known and formidable Magistrate Harry Rosen.

“In those days, the dock was connected by a spiral staircase down to the cells. A defendant would just be told to go up the staircase and then would suddenly emerge into the court, which could be quite overwhelming.

“I was sitting in the front row, waiting for my case to be called, when a chap appeared up at the dock. Harry Rosen was sitting looking out the window in the opposite direction – he never once looked at this guy. ‘Do you have an application to make, defendant?’ he intoned. The poor man obviously had no idea what was going on. I leaned over and in a stage whisper told him to apply for bail. Clearly relieved, the defendant said, very correctly, ‘Yes, Your Worship, I seek bail, as I am a married man and need to provide for my family.’ Still not looking at him, Magistrate Rosen simply said, ‘Bail refused, next case!’”

Being a sole practitioner on the North Shore

Mr Spring enjoyed working at Simpson Grierson, where he remained until 1986, but eventually decided that his commute from the North Shore into town was not something he wanted to do every day for the rest of his life.

“I was having to get up at 5:30 in the morning to avoid traffic, and both going to work and coming home in the dark. So I started up in practice on Hurstmere Road in the Rendell’s Building as a sole practitioner. I started off doing a whole range of stuff, which was really quite fun – from criminal work to conveyancing, wills and general practice.”

While there were some cons of being a sole practitioner (“It can be a lonely business and taking a holiday can be a bit tricky”), Mr Spring is not the kind of person to sit around and let that get him down. In typical fashion, he gathered like-minded people around him on whom he could call when needed and, in 1992, appointed himself to the unofficial role of promoting collegiality amongst North Harbour lawyers.

“I decided we needed to have more collegiality functions, like lunches and Christmas parties. We were able to get a very impressive array of guest speakers to come along – lots of judges, a Governor-General, various politicians, police superintendents and, obviously, lawyers. We had a very good turnout rate from all over the North Shore from Orewa to Devonport. We loved getting together, swapping war stories, and generally having a good chin wag.

“With things like collegiality events and the ability to join committees, a lack of colleagues doesn’t need to be a downside of being a sole practitioner. You can put together a coterie of like-minded people that you can ring up at the drop of a hat.”

Words of wisdom

Mr Spring acknowledges that today’s legal landscape and job market are quite different to when he began in practice in the 1970s. He says that, back when he started out, anyone with any experience was very sought after and that it was comparatively easy to get a job, “unlike now when you have to stand in line with 20 other people”. However, he does have some useful advice for younger lawyers just starting out in the profession today.

“For young lawyers starting out in criminal law, I think there are really great opportunities working with the Public Defence Service (PDS) – it is a great way to kick off a young person’s legal career. The volume of work gives you lots of experience, and you get great back-up, mentoring and support.

“My recommendation to young practitioners is to always be thinking about the next qualifications they could do. Even by just doing a paper in trust law (or whatever else you’re interested in), when a job opportunity comes up which is perfect for you, you will have something extra to offer.”

Giving back to others

Always happy to share his legal experience and knowledge, Mr Spring has for almost two decades been involved in the free legal advice service for inmates at Paremoremo prison. Not only has he served as duty lawyer at the prison several times each year, he has also helped organise the roster of other volunteer lawyers. Lawyers on duty can end up giving advice to anyone from any of the prison’s sections – prerelease, minimum or maximum security, or the sexual offenders’ section – something Mr Spring describes as “both challenging and rewarding”.

“You have absolutely no idea what they’re going to come up with. It could be anything from ‘what’s happening with my appeal?’ to swearing affidavits. Often, you get asked to contact their lawyer for them. When a person is sitting there for 24 hours a day, they have too much time to think and they don’t realise their lawyer has lots of other files and may not have the time to respond to every single whim. Or else, because you’re there giving a little bit of legal advice, they assume that you’re their lawyer.

“Sometimes they just want a chat, especially if they have no family nearby to visit them. Some of them would come up with a ridiculous enquiry as an excuse to see the duty lawyer. It interrupts the routine of the day, relieves tension – the prison staff love it for those reasons.

“The inmates have become so dependent out there in that environment, that you find that they want you to do all kinds of things for them that they could actually do themselves. For example, they might want you to send out letters for them, so I would tell them that I could help them write a letter but that they had to send it themselves. It has become quite predictable over the years, and you learn how best to respond after a while.”

Farewell … for now

Mr Spring will certainly be missed as he steps down from the Council this year, with ADLS President Brian Keene QC describing him as “a stalwart on Council” who has “freely given … tremendous support” over the years. Mr Keene QC says that it will be “hard to imagine attending a Council meeting without him present”.

Mr Spring is particularly pleased to see the new developments and positive direction taken by ADLS since incorporation.

“There are three things I consider to be very important and ADLS is doing all of them well. Firstly, there is the fantastic growth that ADLS has experienced in the last few years – from less than 2000 members a few years ago to well over 3000 now. Secondly, there is the important role of ADLS’s CPD programme, which is meeting the demands of lawyers. Thirdly, there is the financial position of the Society, which is in a good place. I only see more of the same for the future, so I felt that I could step down with a clear conscience.”

For now, Mr Spring has earned a break and has travel plans which will shortly take him on a cruise around Cuba. There is little doubt, however, that he will continue his interest in and contribution to the progress of ADLS.

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