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New Zealand Law Society President Kathryn Beck reflects on American Bar Association annual meeting in Chicago

10 August 2018

New Zealand Law Society President Kathryn Beck has just spent the past week in the United States at the American Bar Association Annual Meeting, which was held in Chicago.

Ms Beck was one of many Presidents from around the world to be at the meeting. Others included the President of the Law Society of Scotland, the Law Society of Northern Ireland, the Law Society of England and Wales, the Federation of Canadian  Law Societies, the Canadian Bar Association and the American Bar Association.

The American Bar Association is one of the world’s largest voluntary professional organisations, with over 400,000 members. Founded in 1878, the ABA is committed to supporting the legal profession with practical resources for legal professionals while improving the administration of justice, accrediting law schools, establishing model ethical codes, and more.

New Zealand Law Society Communications Advisor, Nick Butcher put 5 questions to Kathryn Beck about the ABA annual meeting.

1) The list of Presidents above included Law Societies and Bar Associations that all have women as elected Presidents. What sort of synergy did that bring to the meetings you attended?

“I believe it made a distinct difference to the meetings. We know that diversity expands our thinking, our discussions and the range of solutions we come up with for issues. We could see that in action here. We discussed things from a range of angles and people were genuinely curious to hear what others’ experiences were. The Bar leaders had a series of round table discussions and there was a real buzz in the room, with people wanting to keep going long after the time expired. I think the increased number of women contributed to that energy significantly.”

2) An annual meeting of this size with law profession leaders from throughout the world in attendance is bound to canvass a lot of topics. What was on the table?

“The issues were wide ranging but shared by all the Bar Councils and Law Societies represented. They included cyber security and protection of client information, Anti Money Laundering measures in Europe which the UK have had in place for over a decade, Artificial Intelligence and other new technologies and the practice of law, cross boarder ethics, corporate and social responsibility and the practice of law, the future of the practice of law - beyond the traditional law firm, women in the law and, of course, the #Metoo movement, sexual harassment and discrimination both from a legal workplace and a general human rights perspective.”

3) Sexual harassment and bullying in the New Zealand law profession has been the key issue the Law Society has been dealing with this year. Had other jurisdictions managed or dealt with similar problems?

“This was a major topic of discussion throughout the conference, with some really interesting sessions lead by panels of people with eye watering CVs! Most other jurisdictions are dealing with this issue, although none have had the level of sustained media scrutiny that the NZ legal profession has gone through. The majority of them also face the same issues of under reporting and systemic power imbalances. Like us, they have reached the conclusion that a regulatory response alone will not achieve the culture shift that is required to make a difference and are looking at other ways to influence and educate the profession. It was interesting to hear from jurisdictions at different stages on the path to creating a safe, respectful and inclusive culture for the legal profession. We are ahead of some and following others but the willingness to share experiences and resources was universal. It gave me enormous hope for all members of the global profession.”

4) As the representative of NZLS, how important is it to network at an event of this size and what was the message you were taking to them from the law profession of New Zealand?

“It is very important that we engage with the international profession. To hear what is happening in other jurisdictions and how they are responding to those things is invaluable. It enables us to see what might be coming up for us, to be grateful that some things don’t affect us but to also offer support where we can and to build relationships outside the conference that enable ongoing exchanges of information and resources that continue long after the conference itself finishes. It was a very real example of what it means to be part of a global profession – the collegiality was genuine and heart-warming.

The message I gave was that although we in New Zealand are far away, we are active and open minded members of the international legal profession with much to contribute and a desire to learn from other jurisdictions. We all practise law and that common thread is binding, and with the use of technology we can build closer and lasting connections. I also encouraged them to come and visit our fantastic country and see for themselves what a wonderful law profession we have here.”

5) Did you get to tour Chicago while you there and what were the personal highlights?

“Only for a couple of days but I loved it! I did the Chicago Architecture River Tour, watched the fireworks over the lake and managed a walking food tour in 30+ degree heat. But the highlight was going to a Blues club, Buddy Guy’s Legends, on what ended up being his 82nd birthday and hearing the man himself sing…a privilege. Chicago was a fabulous city with great people. I felt welcome every minute I was there.”

the women leaders of Law Societies and Bar Associations from the UK, North America and New Zealand
Left to right: Alison Atack, president of the Law Society of Scotland; Eileen Ewing, president of the Law Society of Northern Ireland; Kerrie Simmons, president of the Canadian Bar Association; Christina Blacklaws, president of the Law Society of England and Wales; Hilarie Bass, president of the American Bar Association; Kathryn Beck, president of the New Zealand Law Society; Sheila M. MacPherson, president of the Federation of Canadian Law Societies.

The answers to the questions were by New Zealand Law Society President Kathryn Beck, reflecting on her visit to Chicago, where she attended the American Bar Association Annual Meeting.

Other Presidents or representatives who attended also included: Germany, Slovakia, Portugal, IPBA, France, Republic of Ireland, Switzerland, Syria, the Bar Council of England and Wales, Spain,  Hong Kong, Grenada, and Japan.

Last updated on the 10th August 2018