New Zealand Law Society - From the Law Society President Tiana Epati

From the Law Society President Tiana Epati

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COVID-19: the potential to thrive in uncertainty

As this issue of LawTalk is delivered, we are watching the COVID-19 pandemic continue to unfold around the globe.

In New Zealand, our history will record 11.59pm on 25 March 2020 as an historic moment, the exact time our country went into an unprecedented national lockdown to control the spread of this highly contagious virus. The steps being taken by the Government, by the judiciary and courts, and by the Law Society all have one unifying goal – to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and thereby protect all of us, the people we serve, our families and our friends.

While this is undoubtedly the greatest collective fight of our lifetime, now is the time for all of us to keep a cool head and respond to our new circumstances with courage and fortitude. And come together as a united profession.

In the first few hours of putting out the call for volunteers to do pro bono work the Law Society and the NZBA had over 230 lawyers offering their services. Since Level 4 was announced I have been humbled by the collaboration occurring across government, the judiciary and legal organizations to literally paddle the waka in unison. I am truly proud of the selflessness of Law Society staff, volunteers and governors to support the profession and the utter commitment from everyone to help us all see this through. This all gives me confidence we can be united and show the best of ourselves in this extraordinary time. Indeed, it gives me hope that we will not just survive but thrive.

The Law Society is providing, and will continue to provide, guidance and information as soon as it comes to hand, particularly on how to keep the wheels of justice turning. We are doing this in close partnership with other professional legal organizations, the judiciary and government departments to ensure the advice comes from trusted sources, has judicial support (where appropriate) and is consistent.

Regularly updated information is being provided on the dedicated COVID-19 page on our website. Our Family Law Section, for example, have been working hard to provide on-going practical guidance on the vexing issue of obtaining affidavit evidence for without notice priority proceedings. Further guidance was recently provided on filing unsworn affidavit evidence and other topical issues like shared custody arrangements.

We’re also providing additional services aimed at supporting our members. One of these is our new, free webinar series, designed to help you respond to practising during COVID-19 Alert Level 4. We have already run a webinar on working effectively from home during a lockdown; and, a session with the Registrar General of Land and Chair of Property Law Section on property matters arising in this unique time.

A key decision made by the Board since Level 4 was announced by the Government is the expansion of our National Mentoring pilot to the whole of the profession. The pilot has been running successfully for the past nine months in Auckland and Christchurch.

Why mentoring, and why now? Reaching out to another lawyer, who may come from a different part of the profession, or be from a different generation, or area of law and developing a professional mentoring relationship can offer great benefits. It also unites us.

Nobody understands better what it means to be part of our profession than another lawyer, and a professional problem or two shared, and possibly solved, can keep you on track through what will no doubt be an arduous journey for many parts of our profession, country and world.

A national mentoring programme can improve our collective wellbeing, help us stay united, build networks, and connect mentors and mentees so they can develop the sort of adaptive thinking we will all need.

The mentoring programme will be a professional support network that complements the well-established Friends Panel and the free counselling that continues to be provided to the legal profession, and those working in legal offices, via Vitae. In addition to the Friends Panel, mentoring will assist with responding to some of the professional challenges which COVID-19 will throw up. While confidential and individual focused counselling will provide the emotional support needed to build and maintain personal resilience.

As this edition goes to virtual print, I will be arriving at my first anniversary of being President of the New Zealand Law Society (having taken up the role on 10 April 2019).  I can honestly say I have never been prouder to lead the Law Society, and be part of, the profession than right now. My favourite John F Kennedy quote is that “we do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard….and they need to be done”. We will do what needs to be done.

He waka eke noa, kia kotahi te hoe o te waka – we are in the same waka and we need to continue to paddle as one.

Keep safe and strong everyone. Our community is going to need us, and we will need each other, in the challenging months ahead.

Tiana Epati, President
New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa