This week concludes our month-long consultation with the profession and the public on the proposed changes to lawyers’ conduct rules under the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008 (RCCC) and the (Lawyer: Ongoing Legal Education Continuing Professional Development) Rules 2013 (CPD).
The proposed rules are a major step – for the first time any kind of discrimination, bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and other unacceptable conduct will be clearly defined; the threshold for reporting unacceptable conduct to the Law Society will be made clearer; and there will be rules to protect any one who makes a report or complaint.
The proposed changes will also require those who manage and operate law practices to provide a report each year, declaring these issues are being managed appropriately.
The changes are critical to strengthening the Law Society’s ability to address this pressing issue and our best option to fortify our regulatory arm. It has been a complex journey to get to this point and it is heartening to see such a positive response from the sector.
The Law Society is committed to playing a leadership role in targeting and eliminating the culture of discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment which exists in some parts of the legal community – but we cannot, and should not, do this alone. These changes will only be effective if they are adopted and embedded by the profession – and I want to thank all those who have provided their time and expertise to get us to this point.
Our next steps will be to analyse and consider all your feedback and share a summary before the final version is provided to the Board, Minister and Council. Given the process we are required to follow, our goal is to implement the new Rules in 2021.
One of the questions we have been asked is why it has taken so long to develop these proposed changes. We worked closely with the Government to explore options to change the regulatory framework, initially proposing changes to the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006. However, we were told this was not possible at this time.
We then had to change tack – to investigate what we could do to strengthen our powers within the existing regulatory framework. We looked at the rules and regulations that applied to professionals both in New Zealand and overseas and sought advice from regulation and ethics experts.
The changes were informed by this advice, as well as the work and recommendations of the Law Society’s Independent Regulatory Working Group chaired by Dame Silvia Cartwright, the 2018 Workplace Environment Survey and concerns and experiences courageously shared by many within the legal community. While all this has taken time, I believe the proposed changes are even more robust as a result.
It is understandable that some are frustrated by the time it has taken to get to this point. I share that frustration. However, it is important to note that since these issues became public in 2018, the Law Society has not stood still. We have introduced several initiatives to support healthy, safe, respectful and inclusive legal workplaces, including free counselling and an 0800 number for those affected.
I have also spoken publicly about these issues – including the need to take an intersectional approach which goes beyond just gender – on many occasions to keep the conversation moving forward. All voices, on all forms of discrimination, must be heard.
I am confident the Law Society is doing what we can as one of the leaders in the profession to help bring about change. But again, we cannot do this alone. Real change will only take place when everyone in our profession takes responsibility – from law schools right through to senior judiciary. Whether that is stepping up to support a colleague and calling out inappropriate behaviour (“showing up”) or consciously self-educating and building a supportive, non-discriminatory environment within your workplace (“doing the work”). We all have a role in this.
What is important is what we do now – and how we bring about fundamental, lasting change for the future of our profession.
President, New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa