Hair taken from prospective barristers and solicitors checked as ‘risk mitigation’.

Fears lawyers are increasingly turning to drugs has prompted top New Zealand law firms to drug test incoming employees.

With a number of high-profile cases of lawyers being on the wrong side of the dock for drug offences, the number of lawyers being tested for P, cocaine, and cannabis has jumped in the past 18 months.

North Shore-based The Drug Detection Agency now has 18 law firms signed up for its services in Canterbury alone. Five of those practices are using its pre-employment drug testing.

"It's all risk mitigation," said agency chief executive Kirk Hardy yesterday.


Law firms are hiring the agency to undertake hair drug tests for potential new barristers and solicitors.

Strands of hair are cut from the scalp. They are sent away for analysis which can detect whether amphetamines or methamphetamine (P), prescription medication, cocaine or THC in cannabis have been abused over a three-to-12-month history.

About 7 per cent of the agency's tests, which cost $295 a person, are pre-employment tests on prospective employees in the legal or financial sectors.

Mr Hardy said drug testing had encountered a "mixed reaction" from law firms.

"Some lawyers are quite hot on it, while others have said, 'Geez, we'd be too scared to introduce that into our company,'" he said.

A number of New Zealand's biggest law firms did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

Commercial law firm Chapman Tripp, which has offices in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, said it was "aware of the practice but hasn't chosen to use it to date".

Auckland law firm Burton & Co said it was considering updating its employment contracts to include provisions to drug test employees.


The Law Society said the drug testing of potential or existing employees was a matter for each individual law firm. But president Chris Moore said: "Lawyers must provide clear and competent services and it's important they are not mentally or physically impeded by drugs."

Any lawyer caught taking drugs is likely to be found in breach of Law Society rules and faces being struck off.