The New Zealand Law Society has a robust process for investigating and resolving complaints about the conduct of lawyers, Law Society Executive Director Mary Ollivier says.
“The allegations relating to sexual harassment and the wider discussion about workplace environment in the legal profession have resulted in a number of inquiries about the processes and confidentiality requirements for the Law Society’s Lawyers Complaints Service.
“While confidentiality about investigations is required by legislation, it is not true that information on any of the findings is unavailable,” she says.
“Complaints and investigations into the conduct of lawyers are considered and determined by independent Lawyers Standards Committees that are made up of both lawyers and non-lawyers.
“Although standards committee decisions are generally required by the legislation to remain confidential, committees can and do publish their decisions in summary form. This may include the names of the lawyers involved.”
Standards committee decisions which have been published are available on the Law Society website and are also published in the monthly magazine LawTalk.
Mrs Ollivier says publication typically occurs in circumstances where a standards committee believes it is in the public interest or would enhance public confidence in the legal profession, or if it believes publication is necessary to protect the public or inform the legal profession.
“A committee can also publish its decisions to educate the legal profession on the standards that are expected of lawyers,” she says.
“Committees can take steps to protect the privacy of any victims when it publishes its decisions by removing their details or simply publishing the facts of what took place in a way that preserves their privacy.”
If a standards committee believes a lawyer may have committed misconduct the lawyer can be prosecuted by the committee in the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal, she says.
“The Tribunal is an independent body and is administered by the Ministry of Justice. As the Tribunal deals with the most serious conduct, the presumption is that the process will be open and hearings will be public. The Tribunal can suppress details of the case if a request is made by the lawyer or it is necessary to protect the privacy of the victims.”