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Speech by David Campbell —150th ceremonial sitting

06 November 2019

Speech by David Campbell New Zealand Law Society, 150th Ceremonial sitting, Auckland Branch Friday 25 October 2019

Te reo—Introduction

E ngā mana
E ngā reo
E ngā Mātanga o te Ture Tangata, arā ngā Kaiwhakawā o te Motu
Me ngā Roia o Aotearoa
Me ki, koutou ngā Pou o te Tika, te Pono, me te Aroha
Tēnei mātou tō whānau o Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa e mihi nei,
Tēnā koutou katoa.


To our distinguished guests, and speakers
To our legal profession, the Judiciary, and lawyers of Aotearoa present,
You all who are like the Pillars of Truth, Justice, and Mercy
This is your family of the New Zealand Law Society who greet you.


  1. Chief Justice, Chief High Court Judge, your Honours, fellow lawyers, and other guests thank you for this opportunity to speak at this special sitting on behalf of the New Zealand Law Society.


  1. The Law Society’s journey began a little over 150 years ago on 3 September 1869. On that day:

    An Act to incorporate the Barristers and Solicitors of the Supreme Court of New Zealand under the style of "The New Zealand Law Society." 
    [3rd September 1869] 

    came into force. It was called the New Zealand Law Society’s Act.
  2. The Act reflected what must have been simpler times. It was a mere four pages long and comprised just 14 sections. Unlike our latest Act, it did not attempt to deal with the likes of conduct, or client care, or continuing education, or conflicts. Those few practice requirements that did exist were contained in another Act. The almost as modest Law Practitioners Act 1861.
  3. The passage of the Act meant that for the first time the barristers and solicitors in New Zealand—who numbered perhaps 200—were organised into a group; a society that would, to quote section 2 of the Act:

    … for ever hereafter be and be called one body politic and corporate in deed and law by the name of style of the “New Zealand Law Society”.
  4. The first members of the Society were all men and they were all pakeha. Neither Sir Apirana Ngata or Ethel Benjamin were even born. They were born six months apart about six years later. In the case of Ethel Benjamin, admission required the passage of amending legislation in 1896. That amendment provided that candidates could be of either sex.
  5. The change to the law was one thing. The practice was a little different. Ethel Benjamin was not welcomed by the Law Society. Indeed, it erected barriers and attempted to isolate here from the rest of the profession—the men whom ought to have been her colleagues in the law.


  1. Things have changed in the course of 150 years. But it is acknowledged that at times the pace of change has been slow, and that there have been missteps.
  2. 150 years on—in a sesquicentennial year:
    1. There is an opportunity to reflect on the Law Society’s history—how it has evolved— how it will continue to evolve.
    2. There is an opportunity to think about whether the Law Society is reflective of modern New Zealand society and workplaces.
    3. And there is an opportunity to think about improvements that can be to the Law Society itself.


  1. As to the Law Society’s history, when the first Act passed in 1869, New Zealand was a young and at time unruly colony. There was no professional body to take responsibility for admission, and discipline was plainly an issue. (Indeed, some would say it is still an issue.)
  2. The supervision of the profession was the job of the judiciary and clearly the judiciary had had enough. It was actually the judges, not the lawyers, who lobbied for Law Society’s Act.
  3. Thereafter the lawyers made up for lost time—legislatively at least. By my count the Law Society has been involved in encouraging the passage of nine fresh acts, and close to 50 substantive amendments, all dealing with its members.
  4. But getting the legislation right is one thing. It is actual conduct that matters most. I touched on Ethel Benjamin a moment ago. Her treatment was not pretty. She could not get access to the Law Society's library, she was not invited to functions, and her own district tried to stymie her through enforcement of a dress code.

Reflective of society

  1. On a brighter note Ethel Benjamin and Sir Apirana Ngata did not prove to be exceptions. 150 years later, things have certainly changed for the better—and the profession is certainly more reflective of New Zealand society.
  2. We have more than 800 lawyers who identify as Maori. More than half of the lawyers in practice are women. And not all the judiciary looks like me.
  3. There is no debate though that one of those numbers is not nearly adequate and that bare data does provide a complete picture—there is a good way to go.
  4. To its credit, the Law Society has been active in achieving progress. It is working hard on trying to engender greater diversity, and to create opportunities for all. The Gender Equality Charter launched last year is an example. So too is work done on equitable briefing. And of course, the Law Society is not alone in these efforts. The Bar Association has also undertaken a great deal of good work for its members.
  5. One other area in which the Law Society is doing good work is wellbeing in the workplace. There has been a myriad of Practising Well initiatives and that good work will continue. Two recent examples are the introduction of a pilot service that offers free counselling to lawyers, and a pilot mentoring programme.
  6. There is also a lot effort put into creating social connections between lawyers. In an electronic world where settlements are not in person and there are fewer court appearances, it something that lawyers crave and really benefit from.


  1. I also mentioned the opportunity to improve.
  2. Improvements are necessary—to the benefit of the Law Society’s members—to the benefit of the justice system—and to the benefit of the public.
  3. That final object is an important one. Lawyers do recognise that they have privileges. Those privileges have been materially eroded over time, but nevertheless we continue to have standing in the community, and we continue to have exclusive rights of audience before many Courts. In return for those privileges, and as professionals, lawyers and their Society must play a role in safeguarding our justice system and ensuring that those who take legal advice get the quality service they deserve.
  4. And that end I want to touch on two recent developments.
  5. First, the Law Society has recently finalised its fresh strategy. And that strategy is not a restatement of the regulatory and representative functions set out in Part 4 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act.
  6. Rather, as our President, Tiana Epati, has described it, it is a strategy which flows from a kaitiaki perspective of the Law Society’s purpose—which is fulfilling duties to the public, the profession, and the law. Underpinning that purpose the principles recognised in the new strategy are partnership, protection, and participation.
  7. The second development was the decision the Law Society’s Board made just last week— and announced this Wednesday—to commission an independent review of its structure and function. That was a brave decision. But in my view one that has been sensibly made, needed to be made, and which will allow the strategy I have noted to be realised. The review will consider all aspects of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act.
  8. The need for a review is in part a product of the constraints, which are hard-wired into the current Act, and which mean that the Law Society:
    1. cannot be transparent about its complaints processes
    2. cannot deal adequately unacceptable behaviour, including complaints of sexual harassment and bullying, within the profession.
  9. More fundamentally though, this review will be the starting point for fashioning the Law Society’s future role—and in a way that best serves all lawyers, and best protects the interests of our clients. Fit for purpose legislation is going to be needed for that to happen.


  1. Finally, I should note that despite all the challenges, and all the work to be done, the Law Society is in good heart. Up and down the country there are hundreds of lawyers—in fact, there is 400 in the wider Auckland region alone—who are involved in governance, in law reform, in legal education, working as members of standards committees, all sorts of things—and they are giving their time voluntarily. They do so for the good of the profession and in the public interest. They are each living up to the New Zealand Law Society’s motto—to ‘be just and fear not’.

Na reira tena koutou, tena tatou katoa.

Last updated on the 6th November 2019