“As part of our co-regulatory role, the Law Society runs the Lawyers Complaints Service” explains President of the New Zealand Law Society, Tiana Epati.
“The legislation currently prevents us from commenting on whether we have received a complaint, or if concerns have been raised with us.”
“We want to make changes to the Act to allow us to be more open about our complaints process, when it is in the public interest. The proposed amendments to section 188 would bring the Lawyers Complaints Service in line with other professional bodies and modern regulatory practice.”
The proposed changes relate to four key amendments to the Act, which would:
- Maintain public confidence in the complaints process;
- Free up resources to focus on the right complaints;
- Ensure technical complaints with no merit do not impact resources; and
- Ensure conveyancer undertakings are enforceable.
“These amendments would enable the Law Society to operate in a more transparent and efficient manner for both consumers and the legal profession, until broader legislative change can be considered,” adds Ms Epati.
These changes would also complement the new Rules of Conduct and Client Care which came into force on 1 July 2021 and address bullying, harassment and discrimination in the legal profession.
“The amendment to make conveyancers’ undertakings summarily enforceable in the High Court is jointly supported by the Law Society’s Property Law Section, and the New Zealand Society of Conveyancers.”
The proposed amendments to the Act would run in parallel to the work of the Independent Review of the statutory framework for legal services which may propose more significant legislative reform. Any substantive reform following the Independent Review is at least five years away. Hence, the need for some legislative reform now.
A survey outlining the proposed changes is available on the Law Society website and is open until 13 February 2022.
“There has been an increase in the expectations of both the public and the profession about disciplinary processes in relation to lawyers and the action taken in response to complaints,” concludes Ms Epati.
“Improving the transparency and efficiency of the Lawyers Complaints Service is essential to maintaining the integrity of the complaints process and, therefore, the legal profession.”