Jacque Lethbridge takes over as President of the New Zealand Law Society
Improving access to justice for ordinary New Zealanders will be a key priority for the incoming President of the New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa.
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Jacque Lethbridge takes over the role from Tiana Epati on April 8. She is 32nd President, the third consecutive woman President and fifth woman President in 152 years.
Ms Lethbridge is a litigation partner at Auckland law firm Martelli McKegg. She started her career at the Waitangi Tribunal before moving into litigation; firstly, in criminal law with the Public Defence Service before transferring to civil litigation where she has been the first woman partner in two law firms.
“I will continue to advocate for increased legal aid and systemic change to the legal aid system. Legal aid remuneration has languished, not having been reviewed for more than a decade, and with it the prospects of ordinary Kiwis getting access to justice,” she said.
The Law Society’s Access to Justice survey last year identified that 20,000 Kiwis had been turned away from legal aid representation in the prior 12 months. “That’s not acceptable for me or anyone in the law. Structural change is needed in our legal aid system and fast.”
Ms Lethbridge said the current independent review of legislation governing lawyers is a critical piece of work that she intends to see progressed.
“The commencement of the Law Society’s Independent Review will allow us to truly scrutinise our organisation, to analyse the legislation and rules covering all lawyers and determine whether they’re fit-for-purpose.
“The Law Society is sometimes an awkward mix of both regulatory and membership functions, and our efficacy in both duties has a direct effect on justice in Aotearoa New Zealand,” she said.
“I am also a determined advocate for diversity within the legal fraternity. We are not one voice, but many. Inclusivity and collegiality are vital. For instance, ten percent of lawyers in New Zealand are Asian. We should be doing more for these members of our profession.”
Ms Lethbridge added that new lawyers are the future of the legal profession and increasingly female and of Māori and Pacific descent. “For that reason, I wholly support a recently established committee dedicated to advancing the interests of lawyers in the first seven years of practice in the Law Society.”
“The National New Lawyers Panel is a crucial for our future as a profession. Newly minted lawyers have fresh ideas. They’re itchy for dealing with the law the way their generation deals with life. I know they have a big contribution to make.”