Patrick Foster is not a man who likes to talk about himself. Neither is he one of those flamboyant attorneys with a high public profile fuelled by media exposure. However, for the past four decades Foster, a King’s Counsel and senior partner at Nunes, Scholefield, DeLeon & Co, has made an invaluable contribution to the legal profession in the public and private sectors. Therefore, people who know him were more than pleased when this year’s national honours and awards list showed him being appointed a member of the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander.
“I was surprised, because I didn’t know that the process had been initiated by a number of colleagues, including a former student of mine who felt, it seems, that I was deserving of the award. I was quite touched that one of my former students, that I taught years ago, felt it appropriate to take all the necessary steps to initiate the application and to tell me, after the fact, that I was truly deserving of it. So I was quite moved emotionally by that fact. And I then reflected on the amount of work I’ve put in over the years in the public service and in the profession,” Foster told the Jamaica Observer four days after he walked across the lawns of King’s House on October 16, 2023, National Heroes Day, to accept the honour from Governor General Sir Patrick Allen.
The comments were typical of the man who fellow distinguished attorney Milton Samuda described as “humble and extremely gifted”.
That recognition of Foster’s competence came to the fore in the early 1980s when then Deputy Solicitor General Ransford Langrin, recognising that the young attorney’s skills were not being fully utilised at the Ministry of Housing, urged Foster to move to the Attorney General’s Chambers.
At the time Foster had just three years under his belt as an attorney, having been called to the bar in 1982. However, the urge to serve the State at another level was irresistible and Foster joined the Attorney General’s Chambers in 1985 in the Litigation Department, where he”immersed” himself in the work.
He found that his time as a legal clerk at Kingston Legal Aid Clinic in 1976, interviewing clients, taking statements and drafting documents had prepared him well for the job, which gave him vast experience in litigation matters, advising ministries and government departments on liability and contribution, as well as prosecuting and defending civil claims at all levels of the judicial system.
After five years, Foster left the public service and headed into private practice at Dunn Cox and Orrett.
“Well, then the salaries were not as great as they are now in the public service, and I felt I needed to earn a better income and to get a broader exposure in the practice of law,” he told the Sunday Observer.
Five years later it was time to move on, and Foster joined Clinton Hart and Co, at the same time moulding students at the College of Arts, Science, and Technology (now University of Technology, Jamaica) in contract law.
The Clinton Hart years were busy with Foster, by now a seasoned legal practitioner handling a range of personal injury, commercial, admiralty and family matters. His work was apparently being noticed by the State and in 2003 he was induced to return to the Attorney General’s Chambers.
“I was the director of litigation for a number of years, then I became deputy solicitor general in charge of litigation, and then I acted as solicitor general in 2008 for a few months and then left and came here [Nunes Scholefield DeLeon],” he said.
“After having given so many years in the government service I felt the urge to go back into private practice in a different, perhaps more dynamic atmosphere to operate as an advocate,” added Foster, who had now come full circle as he had worked at the firm as a law student. Now, in his role as senior partner, he works with the managing partner in providing leadership to the firm and chairing partners’ meetings among other duties.
He speaks highly of the team at the more than 100-year-old firm, noting that they have supported him over the years and, as such, he’s “extremely grateful to them”.
The support, he said, has given him the opportunity to teach civil procedure at Norman Manley Law School on The University of the West Indies, Mona campus.
“It’s something I’ve done since 2010; I enjoy that immensely,” said Foster, who disclosed that his interest in law came at an early age.
“It started off with just general interest in matters concerning justice and fairness. That was the abstract concept I had in my mind, that in our dealings with each other we must be fair, and we must be just. And, as I got older, the feelings matured into being able to participate in that process, where justice is dispensed to individuals, and I felt that law was a good medium to get involved in dealing with issues of justice,” he explained.
“That led to me having an interest in the legal profession, reading about Norman Manley as a child and developing an interest in the various justice issues he got involved in, both as a lawyer and as a politician,” Foster told the Sunday Observer.
His education journey had seen him first attending Alpha Preparatory, followed by Alpha Primary — “a rather interesting transition because in those days the primary schools were of such a high standard that my parents felt it prudent to move me from prep school to a primary school”, he explained.
High school was Kingston College from 1967 to 1971 after which he went to Calabar High from 1971 to 1974.
It was after leaving high school that Foster worked at the Legal Aid Clinic and that, he said, gave him “deep insight into how the law operated”.
“We were generally doing legal work under the supervision of lawyers, so the exposure was broad and deep,” he said.
“I worked there for two years before I confirmed in my mind, which I knew before, that I wanted to become a lawyer,” he added.
Over the years Foster has appeared in a raft of landmark cases here and at the United Kingdom Privy Council.
He admits that he has found his four decades in the profession fulfilling. “I’ve actually been very satisfied with the various areas in which I’ve practised, and I continue to enjoy it, for sure,” he said, adding that the moments that are most pleasing are when he represents a client “who has been vindicated”, or when he has “dealt with a case that has allowed an injustice to be rectified”, or when he has protected his clients’ “interest in a matter where it had not been recognised before”.
Asked if he has ever grown tired of practising, he said, “I do from time to time, but it’s usually a temporary lapse because of fatigue, but generally I haven’t reached a point where I said I’ll stop practising, although at some point I think I’ll have to.”
He admits that balancing the demands of his profession with his personal life is still a bit difficult; however, his commitment to law and the joy he feels at seeing his three daughters excel in their chosen professions keep him going.
“I am quite proud of them. Two — Jheanelle and Kimberley — are doctors, and Gillian, who specialises in psychology and human resources, works with recruiting firms in Texas,” he said with a broad smile.