The legislation that radically changed the way lawyers and conveyancers do business and conduct themselves is now 10 years old.
The Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 replaced the longstanding Law Practitioners Act. It came into effect on 1 August 2008.
The new Act introduced major changes to the regulation of lawyers. These included a stronger focus on protecting the consumer and one regulator for lawyers.
New Zealand Law Society Executive Director (Acting) Mary Ollivier says the new Act consolidated and centralised regulation of all lawyers with the New Zealand Law Society becoming the regulator for the legal profession.
“The previous Act had allowed 14 different district law societies to carry out regulatory functions under their own prescribed rules. Each society issued practising certificates and regulated lawyers in their respective areas. The provisions for investigating complaints were not consumer focused and the processes followed varied from district to district. There was no obligation for central or public reporting by each district.
“The new Act has a strong consumer focus and introduced a more responsive and consistent complaints service which allowed compensation to be paid to clients where appropriate. It introduced the new regulated profession of conveyancers and new conduct and client care rules. It also created offence provisions for people holding themselves out to be lawyers. Lawyers were made to be more accountable. The Law Society is also required to report annually on its regulatory activities,” she says.
Once the new Act became law it was another six months before the assets of all district law societies needed to be transferred to the New Zealand Law Society. Auckland District Law Society elected to retain its assets and other holdings but no longer has any regulatory powers and has become an incorporated society. The other district law societies became branches and continue to carry out some delegated regulatory functions.
Mrs Ollivier says as the first decade ends, a special working group chaired by Dame Silvia Cartwright is investigating whether the current regulatory framework is still fit for purpose and is looking at the complaints process.
“That initiative is in reaction to the disturbing allegations of sexual harassment and bullying occurring in some workplaces where law is practised. While the Act set the framework under which we must operate, it is very clear that we must continue to assess its fitness for purpose and whether it is adequate to enable the cultural change which must happen.
“We also need to look at whether the Act will remain fit for purpose as new ways of practising law arise with the advancement of technology,” Mrs Ollivier says.