The Wairarapa law community is in shock after the death of prominent lawyer Louise Elder.

Partner of Carey Ashwell, mother of two daughters and a step-daughter, the 50-year-old Masterton lawyer died at home yesterday after surgery on Thursday for an aneurism.

The news arrived at Masterton District Court about 10am yesterday as the registrar's court was underway, causing the closure of the courtroom as lawyers and staff were told the news of the death.

Staff and colleagues were visibly distraught.

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Lawyer Virginia Pearson was in tears as she walked into the courtroom and was hugged by one of the security staff.

Lawyer and close friend of Ms Elder, Jock Blathwayt said it was devastating to hear she was gone.

"It is a startling development and was totally unexpected ... she was a very good friend of mine.

"An amazing person."

Masterton District Court manager Lauri Blyth-Carter said staff were upset.

"The team have taken it really hard. Louise was such a big part of the court and the Family Court."

Ms Elder was admitted to the bar in the Wellington High Court on November 18, 1988 and had been running her own law practice in Masterton as a criminal defence and family court lawyer covering youth work, civil litigation and compliance prosecutions.

She also did pro-bono prosecutions on behalf of the Wairarapa SPCA. During the 2009-2010 period, she was a representative on the Wellington Branch Council of the New Zealand Law Society and she had been a champion for change to the legal aid system in 2010.

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Earlier this year on March 28, the Institute of Professional Legal Services appointed Ms Elder as one of 12 tutors supervising and teaching law students in Wellington.

Current president of the Wellington Branch of the Law Society, Nerissa Barber, who studied law at Victoria University in the 1980s with Ms Elder, said the sudden death "comes as a complete shock".

Ms Elder served the Wairarapa and represented lawyers well during her time at the law society, Ms Barber said.

"She represented Wairarapa practitioners extremely ably. We all appreciated Louise's valuable insights, energy and her work. Louise made a great contribution to the law, the legal profession and to the broader community.

"She was a fantastic person, and her untimely death is a huge loss for us all."