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Hey! You missed Be Kind to Lawyers Day!

09 April 2019 - By Geoff Adlam

Tuesday 9 April 2019 was designated International Be Kind to Lawyers Day. Don't worry: it will come around again in another 364 days.

Almost every day of the year is claimed by someone for something. There's National Hugging Day (you missed it; it was on 21 January along with Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day on 28 January), World Sleep Day (18 March), International Lefthanders Day (13 August),  International Talk Like a Pirate Day (19 September) and World Toilet Day on 19 November. Some days are calculated not by date but by time. National Doughnut Day in the land of guns and eating is the first Friday in June, System Administrator Appreciation Day is the last Friday in July. And International Beer Day is on the first Friday in August.

There are, of course, many other days where the focus is on saving our environment, fighting intolerance, violence, and other wrongs that plague the world. In the month of June, there are, for example, World Environment Day (6 June), World Oceans Day (8 June), World Day Against Child Labour (12 June), World Refugee Day (20 June) and International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (26 June).

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But back to the day for lawyers. World Kindness Day is on 13 November, but 9 April is just for lawyers. Be Kind to Lawyers Day. New Zealand, of course, along with Fiji and Samoa and some other countries, was the first in the world to celebrate it.

Back a decade or so ago, the handy Checkiday.com website says, American public speaker Steve Hughes decided that lawyers were getting a bad deal. He had worked with lawyers and found that they were pretty nice people. However, when he told others about his work they would make sarcastic comments or crack lawyer jokes.

So, Steve Hughes decided that lawyers should have their own day. According to Checkiday, he chose the second Tuesday of April because it occurs between April Fools' Day and Tax Day (if you're unsure how this tallies, you're not alone).

The first Be Kind to Lawyers Day was in 2008. Interest spread rather slowly, and it was not until 2017 that it was designated International Be Kind to Lawyers Day (by whomever designates these days).

How to celebrate?

If you're a lawyer, hopefully you basked in the appreciation. If you're a non-lawyer, what can you do when the day comes around again to show some kindness to the hard-working legal profession?

Checkiday helps: "Celebrate the day by thanking a lawyer for all their work. Perhaps you could send them a card or a gift. You should not tell any lawyer jokes today, or make any disparaging comments about lawyers. If you accidentally say something bad about a lawyer, say "strike that from the record" after your remark."

A word about the gift suggestion. To protect people who engage them, New Zealand lawyers have a strict code of conduct which regulates how they must carry out their work. The Conduct and Client Care Rules are required regular reading for every lawyer. And Chapter 5 says a lawyer must be independent and free from compromising influences or loyalties when providing services to his or her clients.

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Rule 5.8 says a lawyer must not accept a gift from a client if there is a possibility of the gift being or appearing to be inconsistent with the trust and confidence reposed by the client. The rule goes further; it says in any case where a lawyer proposes to accept a gift "of a significant amount or value", the lawyer may do so only if the client has taken prior independent advice (ie, from another lawyer) in respect of the matter.

"This rule extends to gifts from clients to any person with whom the lawyer has a close personal relationship or to any member of the lawyer's practice".

So, careful with the gifts. Lawyers are required to operate free from influence and totally independently.

Appreciate the hard work

The vast majority of New Zealand's 13,500-plus lawyers have got there by working hard. And always with the goal of doing work which helps others and upholds our justice system. The first rule in the Conduct and Client Care Rules says: "A lawyer is obliged to uphold the rule of law and to facilitate the administration of justice."

"It was what I wanted to do. I believed in what [being a lawyer] stood for - which was upholding the rule of law and fairness. I still believe in those things although I am still learning every day about what they mean," the outgoing New Zealand Law Society President Kathryn Beck said recently. "I have found that it is a place where I can use my intellect, my experience, my imagination, skills and training to solve problems."

"Most, if not all, of us become lawyers to be of service to the community, do something good and to make a positive impact," says incoming Law Society President Tiana Epati. "It is about remembering that it is a privilege to be a lawyer and with that comes obligations and responsibilities. We take an oath to be admitted into practice and we need to remember that."

Becoming a lawyer

To become a lawyer you need to study for at least four years to complete an LLB at a New Zealand university. Around 1750 students complete law bachelors or honours degrees every year. Every law degree now includes courses on the ethical requirements for lawyers.

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Once a student has a law degree they then need to complete a professional legal studies course if they want to practise as a lawyer. About 40% of students who finish law degrees don't go into practice. The "profs" course as it is known is mainly online learning and takes several months to complete.

Successful completion of legal "profs" means an application can be made to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand. A certificate of character must be obtained as part of this process. The certificate is issued by the New Zealand Law Society. It certifies that someone is a "fit and proper person" to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor. Referees are needed and the rigorous checking process means it takes around three months after application before a certificate is obtained.

The next step of the process is the admission ceremony. Around 1,000 New Zealanders are admitted as barristers and solicitors each year. The admission is a court proceeding in the High Court. Group ceremonies are held throughout the year in the main centres. Smaller centres have ceremonies by arrangement.

Each candidate for admission appears in the court with a supporting lawyer who moves their admission. The admission candidate must swear or affirm that they will truly and honestly conduct themselves in the practice of a barrister and solicitor to the best of their knowledge and ability. The High Court Judge then makes an order for their admission. Their name is entered on the roll of barristers and solicitors. If, during their career their conduct as a lawyer is found to be so far short of the high standards required of lawyers, they can be "struck off" the roll.

Regulation of legal practice

The final step to practising as a lawyer is obtaining a practising certificate. The practice of law in New Zealand is regulated by the New Zealand Law Society under the provisions of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006. The fundamental purposes of this Act are to maintain public confidence in the provision of legal services, to protect the consumers of legal services, and to recognise the status of the legal profession. The Law Society is required to control and regulate the practice of the profession of law in New Zealand by every lawyer.

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Every one of New Zealand's lawyers is required to obtain a practising certificate from the Law Society and then to renew it each year. The current practising year runs to 30 June 2019. After that, any lawyer who has not applied for renewal of their practising certificate is not allowed to practise.

A practising certificate certifies that the holder is a fit and proper person to practise law and allows them to describe themselves as a lawyer. It is an offence for someone without a current practising certificate to describe themselves as a lawyer.

Every year, lawyers who apply for a practising certificate must make a "fit and proper" declaration. This declaration is made online. First, lawyers must undertake to comply with the fundamental obligations of lawyers as set out in section 4 of the Act.

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Lawyers must also reveal if there are any matters which may impact on their fitness to practise: "During the period since my admission or receipt of my last practising certificate (whichever is more recent), no matter has arisen that does or might affect my fitness to be issued with a practising certificate". This declaration is taken exremely seriously by the Law Society and lawyers.

At any time over the year lawyers are also required to disclose to the Law Society, as soon as practicable, information about any matter which might affect their continuing eligibility for a practising certificate.

The New Zealand legal profession

Returning to our Be Kind to Lawyers theme. New Zealand's lawyers are an increasingly diverse group of people. All are committed to providing high standards of service to their clients and to helping uphold the rule of law and an accessible and effective justice system. Be kind to them not just on Be Kind to Lawyers Day; if you want someone who will focus on representing your interests when you are in trouble or when you want to buy a house, set up a business, or do anything where a legal transaction is required, a lawyer is the person who will be able to stand alongside you. Be kind.

Last updated on the 10th April 2019