Leonard Andrew Andersen (08 April 1952 – 16 September 2023)
Len Andersen KC passed away on 16 September after a short illness. He was one of the leaders of the Otago Bar but is known throughout the country for his work for the profession as a whole, including serving on the NZBA Council, becoming President of the CBA, and being active within the Law Society. Len was also President of the former Otago District Law Society and a faculty member of the Litigation Skills programme. He was the current Convenor of the NZLS Practise Approval Committee.
Len grew up in Napier and had six siblings. He knew from an early age that he wanted to be a lawyer, despite the doubts of an early career adviser. When it came time to go to University, Len decided to attend Otago University, as his mother had done before him. After graduating in 1975, he spent a year as a teaching fellow in the Law School but was impatient to practise law rather than become an academic. However, he would later return to a teaching role at Otago, where he lectured in advocacy for many years.
Len then moved North to take a position at Osborne Handley Gray and Richardson. His practice was general nature, and he later described it as approximately 1/3 family, 1/3 criminal and 1/3 other litigation, including civil. Although he was possibly better known for his criminal work, Len retained the generalist approach, liking the variety of the work.
Fifteen years later, Len returned to Dunedin to join Dr Royden Somerville KC, who was establishing a new set of chambers. He was to comment in an interview that although barristers do not have the benefit of others contributing to the common income (including paid sabbaticals), they gain being solely responsible for their practice and not having to worry about staff or other issues associated with partnerships. However, Len was not a person to operate in a silo and was well-known for his care for and worry about his chamber mates and the junior barristers he mentored along the way.
Len was called to the inner bar in 2019 at the High Court in Dunedin. The Otago Daily Times reported that there was not a spare seat in the courtroom and published a photo of Len with his proud daughter, Cate Andersen – also a barrister. The paper noted that he was forced to remain silent during the ceremony, which led to the Chief Justice commenting that because he had no right of reply, as he was used to in the criminal jurisdiction, he should "stand and relax".
Remembered fondly by his friends and colleagues, Len was often the first to put his hand up and offer to help when needed. He was committed to his clients. The Chief Justice noted in the call ceremony that silks have to be committed to the development of the law, show a fierce independence and a desire to take on complex work without financial reward. She said, "The role is reserved for the strong, the upright, the learned and the brave." Len, she noted, embodied those qualities.
Len practised law for some 47 years. Although he was at a time in his life when many would consider retirement, he continued to serve his clients and give back to the legal community right to the end. Len was well known as a resourceful practitioner, skilled in many practice areas with an unconventional but skilful advocacy style. Or, as the Chief Justice described it, while his advocacy style could not be described as polished, Len was adept in finding the true merit in any case he was arguing.
Dr Royden Somerville KC described Len as a stalwart of the Southern Bar, saying that he was well-known for his industry, the wide range of matters he appeared in, his indefatigable approach when advancing a client's case, and his passion for advocacy. “He was a highly valued member of the legal profession and a generous mentor of many young practitioners. He will be greatly missed by his colleagues and friends," said Dr Somerville.
This has been echoed many times as practitioners learned of Len’s passing. Len had been due to attend the Bar Association’s Annual Conference on the weekend he passed. President Maria Dew KC was in the position of having to deliver the sad news at our formal dinner, where the Law Society President, Frazer Barton, spoke of Len as a kind and generous person. Many remarked on their sense of loss. Ms Dew said that:
“What was striking was the consistency of the comments from those who knew Len, either a little or very well. He was described as generous, the first one to step up if you needed help and intuitive in understanding when encouragement or support was needed by others. In his time on our Bar Council (1994 to 1998), he was admired as a voice of calm reason. Undoubtedly, his passing is a huge loss to the profession. He will be deeply missed.”
Len has been described by colleagues as the “Patron Saint of Lost Causes” and a genuinely nice bloke. He would step in and help out on cases where others had long given up hope. He always turned up to events and championed collegiality amongst practitioners, hosting a series of lunches for lawyers for many years. He was both a mentor and a friend, as a barrister recently commented:
"Len taught me advocacy skills in 1995. Len was a formidable teacher, demanding high standards of all of us and opening our eyes to the skills required in court. We were in awe of him. Len has kept in touch over the past 30 years. He was tremendous at picking up the phone. Whenever something happened, whether it was a disappointing judgment or a career highlight, he always phoned. He was always fun to be around – a genuinely fantastic person. When one of us recently lost a parent, he was at the funeral. He was in touch with Kerryn Beaton KC and me during and after the Dickason trial. He was the ultimate mentor and friend, and we will miss him terribly."
The President and Council of the New Zealand Bar Association | Ngā Ahorangi Motuhake o te Ture extend their sincere condolences to Len’s whānau, friends, colleagues and students.
Len's service and closing address will be held in the Glenroy Auditorium, Harrop Street, Dunedin, at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, 23 September, followed by private cremation. Messages to 38 Cardigan Street, North East Valley, Dunedin 9010 or on Len's page at www.tributes.co.nz where you can also access a link to livestream the service.