National MP Chris Bishop has announced lodgement of a Members' Bill aimed at making it easier for lawyers to do work outside their existing employment.
The Lawyers and Conveyancers (Employed Lawyers Providing Free Legal Services) Amendment Bill would insert a new section 10A in the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 "to allow a lawyer who is an employee to do free legal work other than for the lawyer’s employer, on conditions set by the New Zealand Law Society".
"Many people will be surprised to learn that currently under the Act, an employed lawyer is deemed guilty of misconduct if the lawyer does legal work outside of the lawyer’s employment," Mr Bishop says.
"Any in-house lawyer who, for example, advises a friend on a tenancy dispute matter or a domestic building contract, or who amends the local tramping club’s rules is considered guilty of misconduct.
"The ban is commonly breached and not strongly recognised. We know that many employed lawyers do legal work outside their employment, mostly on a pro bono basis, and many lawyers are unaware that in doing so, they are considered guilty of misconduct."
The bill will proceed only if it is drawn in the ballot to decide which members' bills are introduced.
A letter to the Editor of LawTalk in the December 2017 issue by in-house lawyer John McLean supported relaxation of the rules on employment of employed lawyers.
New Zealand Law Society Executive Director Mary Ollivier says the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act is consumer-focused legislation.
"This includes having protections in place so that lawyers who provide pro bono services to the public are suitably qualified and approved to practise on their own account or under appropriate supervision.
"The Law Society is very supportive of finding more ways that employed lawyers can provide advice on a pro bono basis to improve access to justice. However, these consumer protections should be the same whether the advice provided is pro bono or for financial reward. Any legislative proposals need to take account of this."
Mrs Ollivier says the Law Society is open to considering all possible solutions.She says that in relation to the bill, the Law Society would need to consider the content of practice rules and how these will protect the consumer while assisting with access to justice issues.