Andrew Steele: Civil Litigation committee

This profile is part of a series on ADLS committee convenors

Andrew Steele
Andrew Steele

Where do you work, what’s your role?
I am a civil litigator and partner of Martelli McKegg Lawyers.

I have a particular interest in trust law and equity, and litigation involving trusts and estates. I am the lecturer and examiner for the estates litigation portion of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners’ diploma.

Where did you study?
I completed a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Auckland (accounting and economics) in 1984, then pursued clean air to the University of Otago where I completed my LLB in 1987.

What’s been your career to date?
I started my career at Cairns Slane solicitors, working with Ross Patterson (brother of Bill Patterson, the present convenor of the ADLS Trust Law committee).

After two years there, I did my OE in the UK and worked for the next five years for British Telecom plc in its 80-strong legal team. I ‘cut my teeth’ there, doing trips-n-slips and industrial disease, personal injury, damage to BT plant and employment law. With around 230,000 employees at the time, there was no shortage of personal grievances.

On admission as a solicitor to the Supreme Court of England I was rather proud to receive a certificate signed by Justice Donaldson of Lymington, Master of the Rolls.

I was fortunate that my various positions with BT involved travelling the length of the UK, to Europe and even New York with a trip to the top floor of the World Trade Centre.

Solicitors in the UK are not expected to draft proceedings or appear in court as this is considered the sole domain of barristers. I smile to recall the shock on the face of my English colleagues when they discovered I had been doing both. They couldn’t believe that solicitor-litigators in New Zealand are expected to appear in the court at all levels.

When I came back to New Zealand, I took up a staff solicitor’s role as a litigator at Brookfields Lawyers. In 1999, I joined Chamberlains solicitors, eventually becoming a partner there, before that firm merged with Martelli McKegg. I have been a partner at Martelli McKegg since 2006 and am on the managing partners’ board.

Why do I enjoy litigation? I enjoy a good argument. I also enjoy learning about the principles of law and exchanging views with like-minded souls. That’s why I joined the ADLS committees and write regularly for ADLS’ LawNews, law journals and bulletins.

I don’t consider myself a scholar but, rather, someone with an inquisitive mind who enjoys the law beyond the immediate day-to-day case load. If I see a case that interests me, I explore it and write about it – for the firm and sometimes for external publications.

How long have you been a member of ADLS?
I have been a member of ADLS since my return from the UK in 1995.

How long have you been involved with ADLS committees and which committees have you worked with?
I have been on the Civil Litigation committee for around six years and this is my first year as convenor.

Bill Patterson invited me to join the Trust Law committee, I guess because he may have noticed I had written on trust and equity matters. I consider myself a relative junior on this committee and feel privileged to talk about trust and equity with some of the leading figures in the area.

There is an incredible store of knowledge among the members of the various committees and I expect I have learned/gleaned more than my meagre contributions have enlightened others.

Why is committee work important?
For me, an important aspect of committee work is to identify issues of interest and to raise awareness of them to members or to try to influence the development of the law in those areas – for instance, by making submission to the Law Commission or Rules Committee or whatever the case may be.

How do ADLS committees make a difference?
The internet and speed of communications and the introduction of the case management system has made it harder for lawyers to reflect on the law and keep up with developments.

I believe the committees provide a forum for like-minded lawyers to come together to share ideas and to discuss how lawyers can be supported. Obviously the focus is on the members of ADLS but we are part of a profession and so I believe the work of the committees ultimately ends up supporting the profession more generally.

The support I speak of involves articles for LawNews, producing forms and precedents for lawyers’ use, and holding ongoing seminars to keep lawyers abreast of developments and trends in the law.

Whenever there are significant changes impending in the law, the committees make submissions, hopefully to improve the changes and ensure the voices of lawyers at the proverbial coal-face are heard.

What’s been the most notable achievement or biggest focus of your committee in the past few years? Why was that important?
The Civil Litigation committee meets with judges and court administrators to raise issues when it is felt they should be raised. The committee regularly makes submissions to the Rules Committee, chaired by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. We also did a series of articles focusing on the delays in determinations from the Lawyers’ Complaints Review Officer.

In terms of achievements, we have seen changes to the law with regard to the LCRO that have alleviated the blockages in decisions coming out of that office, though the problem is still not solved. And recently we saw an increase and improvement in the costs schedules to the High Court Rules. Immodestly perhaps, the committee believes it had an influence with respect to these changes.

What would you say to anyone thinking of becoming involved in an ADLS committee?
Anyone that has an interest in civil litigation is welcome on the Civil Litigation committee. Come and share your knowledge and experiences. Make a difference.

What’s the biggest issue facing your practice area at the moment? And how does that affect lawyers and their clients?
I see no obvious big issues on the horizon in civil litigation. It’s a case of ‘steady-as-she-goes’.

What’s the best-kept secret about ADLS?
When I worked in the UK, I was impressed with the collegiality among barristers. The Inns of Court in London would have regular get-togethers to have a drink, a meal, a laugh and generally share war stories as sort-of comrades in arms.

One of the best-kept secrets at the ADLS is that the committees and the get-togethers organised by the ADLS provide a rare opportunity to share collegiality with fellow lawyers.

To find out more about ADLS committees, contact Melissa Fini: e: melissa.fini@adls.org.nz

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