Bond University

Article Title

The History of New Zealand Legal Education: A Study in Ambivalence


The ambivalence which has characterised the history of legal education in England, as described in the above quote, has also been a persistent feature of legal education in New Zealand. This is not surprising in view of the heavy influence which English norms and traditions have exerted on the New Zealand profession. As in England, lawyers in New Zealand saw themselves as belonging to a cultured body of people with common skills and ideals. As part of this outlook, New Zealand lawyers came to accept, however grudgingly or hesitatingly, that they needed to know more than the mere mechanics of practice and that they needed to be exposed at least to the basics of other (academic) disciplines. At the same time, New Zealand lawyers inherited the English mindset that law, being an essentially applied discipline, was best learnt through self-help in the practice of the profession. New Zealand lawyers tenaciously clung to the English notion that immersion in practice was the only realistic way in which aspirant lawyers could learn to be effective operators of the rules and processes which regulated human conduct. This article will analyse the history of New Zealand legal education in the light of the continuing tension between the above two themes. It will do so in the context of four chronological periods which reflected important shifts in the goals and directions of New Zealand legal education.