About Us ยป Purpose & History

Our Purpose

The Newcastle Law Society is a regional law society which represents in excess of 500 solicitors, both in the private and public sectors practising in the Newcastle area.

Our objectives are, amongst other things, to promote and support local legal initiatives, to lobby on key issues affecting the local legal profession and the community and to assist with the provision of educational and training opportunities for the local profession.

History

The legal profession in Newcastle today boasts almost 600 practitioners, a law school that produces almost 80 graduates each year,  pro bono practices that are held in high regard such as the Hunter Community Legal Centre, and the Newcastle University Legal Centre, national firms, and large regional firms. The local profession also has established and promoted one of the largest regional societies in New South wales.  Such growth is something that reflects not just the growth of Newcastle as a regional centre but also  the achievements of those who were responsible for the establishment of our firms over the last 160 years.

The first legal practice in Newcastle was established in 1841 by Henry Baker.

Henry Baker was admitted as a Solicitor in Sydney in 1841 and is acknowledged as being the first permanent Solicitor of Newcastle, being appointed a clerk of the District Council in 1844 and being the only Solicitor being recorded as practicing in Newcastle until 1861, when he was appointed Registrar of the District Court for Hunter River District and ceased private practice.

His Son, William Henry Baker was articled to his uncle, Henry Mullen of Maitland, and occupied that firm’s office in Newcastle until he could practice on his own account, he being admitted on 27th March 1875 and commencing practice in Newcastle some 2 weeks later.

At that stage Newcastle was a far less important and populous centre than Maitland, which continued to be case until the establishment of the BHP Steel Works in 1911. W H Baker was appointed Newcastle City Solicitor the year after his admission by the then Mayor, Alderman F J Shaw and he occupied that office until his death on 3rd July, 1931.

Henry Joseph Brown was admitted on 13th November, 1858 and was described by a colleague as a kindly man of immense charity who in needy cases would not only waive his own fee but pay Counsel out of his own pocket. He was a keen fisherman as well as a good lawyer but the practice he established of H J Brown & Mitchell did not endure beyond the death of his and his partners’ deaths shortly before the out break of World War I.

William Sparke was admitted on 2nd September, 1882. His forebears were long time residents of the Hunter Valley and he practiced to beyond his 90th birthday. In 1890 with Godfrey Millard he formed Sparke & Millard which was dissolved after the First World War. Then a former Article Clerk, Basil Helmore became a partner after qualifying he obtained a doctorate in Laws from London University and was a noted legal author in Real Property and Commercial Law. Due in no small part of the energy and efforts of Paul Anicich, the firm has expanded its base of commercial and insurer clients and has spread throughout Australia and become a top tier Australian Law firm.

Henry Vincent Harris was admitted on 9th March, 1892 and was articled to Joseph Albert Gorrick who had both Maitland and Newcastle offices. Harris commenced law the hard way, opening an office in Newcastle and waiting for clients to turn up. He practiced in association with his brother Reginald for a while as H V & R Harris. A later iteration was with H V Harris Westcott & Co until Albert Westcott went to practice in Cessnock and then the firm became H V Harris Wheeler & Co.

Harry Lambert (Bert) Wheeler had a distinguished war service in the First World War and rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He was a solicitor for some 69 years and awarded an OBE not merely for his contribution to local government as an alderman and Mayor of Newcastle but particularly because of his commitment to the welfare of ex-serviceman and their organisations especially during the Depression.

On 30th May, 1896 Thomas Alfred Inglis Braye was admitted and practiced alone for a number of years and later formed the partnership of Braye & Cohen. In 1898 Mr Harry Cohen joined the partnership which then became Braye Cragg Cohen & Co. 1987 saw the merging of Braye Cragg Cohen & Co with Fox Maher & Partners.

In 1899 Minter Simpson & Co opened a Newcastle office to service their clients engaged in heavy industry, particularly BHP. This was initially managed by Archibald Aloysius Rankin and in 1912 Rankin took over the practice, conducting it in his own name. He was award the CBE for his services to the community. With the accession of Alfred Nathan as a partner the firm became Rankin & Nathan, retaining that name to the present time.

The firm of Reid & Reid commenced as a partnership between the 2 nephews of Sir George Reid, the Premier of NSW and later Prime Minister of Australia. The firm’s association with the Miners Federation, which was begun by William Alexander Reid, who was admitted on 7th June 1880, still endures.

The Law Society seeks to build on the recorded history of the legal profession in Newcastle. If you or your firm wish to contribute to this record please contact us.

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