Fifty years teaching law for Professor David McLauchlan

2021 marks the 50th anniversary of Professor David McLauchlan's time at the Faculty of Law.

To celebrate the completion of his 50 years at the Law school, Professor McLauchlan was taken to lunch by the President of the Court of Appeal, Stephen Kós, and the Chief Justice, Dame Helen Winkelmann.
To celebrate the completion of his 50 years at the Law school, Professor McLauchlan was taken to lunch by the President of the Court of Appeal, Stephen Kós, and the Chief Justice, Dame Helen Winkelmann.

Professor David McLauchlan’s enthusiasm for the law, teaching and research certainly doesn’t go unnoticed and, from the moment you meet him, you can tell that enthusiasm hasn’t waned over the last 50 years.

On 1 January 2021, Professor David McLauchlan completed a 50-year milestone at the Faculty of Law. Of that 50 years, about 40 have been as Professor of Law. He was appointed professor in late 1981 at the age of 33, one of the youngest professors in the history of Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

Professor McLauchlan has taught many generations of students, several of whom have become leaders in the legal profession, business, and government. He has also inspired his students to dream big. A number of his students have gone on to become Superior Court Judges.

Professor McLauchlan is one of the world’s leading figures in the fields of Contract and Commercial Law. He has published two books, and over 160 scholarly chapters and journal articles which have received commendations from the highest echelons of the judiciary. Some of his published work has led to important developments in the law or scholarly debate.

As an indication of his stature in the Law of Contract, Professor McLauchlan is one of the most cited authors in that area. His work has been favourably cited in the House of Lords, the Privy Council, the Supreme Court of Canada, the New Zealand High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, the English Court of Appeal and High Court, and the Australian Federal and State courts.

Of the last 50 years, Professor McLauchlan initially says, “I don’t really have a highlight, it is just a highlight to have worked here for so long. Although I guess, one of the highlights would include seeing people who were in your classes achieving great things in the profession. That’s not my doing, of course. That’s their doing. They just happen to have been in my classes.

“I think the highlights for me are also the students who say to me: ‘You’ve made me decide not to give up law’ or ‘I thought the law of contract would be boring but it wasn’t’. That’s far more rewarding than a citation by a judge or being part of an important legal development or winning a prize for a book or an article.”

One of the most significant moments of the last 50 years, was the change in location for the Faculty of Law. The move from Kelburn campus to Old Government Buildings allowed the Faculty to have a place to call home—and a grand one at that.

During Professor McLauchlan’s first 25 years at the Law school, he felt as though they were constantly on the move. He describes the Faculty of Law as having been the “Peripatetic Faculty”. In 1971, when Professor McLauchlan first started, the Law school offices were split between the Hunter Building and the Kelburn Parade houses, then came Rankine Brown, next the Old Kirk Building, and finally Old Government Buildings where the Law school has resided for 25 years. The current accommodation allows law students and staff to build closer links to the profession, the judiciary, and government.

Professor McLauchlan acknowledges that there have been other significant and welcome changes during the last half-century. These include greater ethnic diversity and a much-improved gender balance in the academic staff. He says, “Today, 40 percent of our academics are women compared to just a handful when I first started in the Faculty. We now have numerous extraordinarily capable and high-achieving women in the Faculty, although we still have a little way to go to achieve absolute equality of representation.”

Secondly, there are improved systems in place for promotion, particularly to professorial level. When Professor McLauchlan first started, the number of professorial positions was limited and advancement was dependent on someone leaving or passing on. Now, however, there are ways of advancing through the University’s internal promotion system that allow deserving colleagues to be promoted to the rank of professor. Today, there are about four times as many professors in the Faculty compared to the numbers in the 1970’s and 80’s.

Finally, the student body has grown significantly since the 1970’s and 80’s. And Professor McLauchlan says, “Despite the pressures they are under, the great majority of students are hard-working, good-natured, and appreciative of what we are doing.”

Not only has number of students studying law grown but so too has the number of high achievers. This is reflected in the number of students who achieve first-class LLB honours. Each year, the Faculty has 20 or more students achieving this award compared to often just one or two during the 1970’s and 80’s.

Professor McLauchlan has enjoyed his chosen career over the last 50 years and says, “I have had one of the best jobs I could possibly have had.”

Words he lives by and regards as his motto, by US Professor Harold J Berman, are on the notice board outside his office. “If a scholar is not a teacher, his scholarship will be sterile. If a teacher is not a scholar, his teaching will be superficial.” Professor McLauchlan believes the key to being a good teacher is enthusiasm and simply wanting to be there in the classroom to challenge the students—two attributes he has possessed unfalteringly over the last 50 years.