Representatives of the New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa appeared before the Justice select committee today on the Lawyers and Conveyancers (Employed Lawyers Providing Free Legal Services) Amendment Bill, which seeks to allow employed lawyers to provide free legal services, other than for their employer, on conditions set by the Law Society.
The Law Society’s submission recognised there is an unmet legal need in New Zealand, and commended the aim of the Bill to facilitate access to pro bono legal services.
The submission also highlighted the importance of ensuring consumers receive adequate protection and professional standards are maintained.
“Lawyers who carry out pro bono services are currently subject to the same requirements of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act as lawyers who work for a fee,” says Law Society General Manager Professional Standards, Katie Rusbatch.
“A new regime must therefore have appropriate mechanisms in place to ensure lawyers can meet their ethical and regulatory obligations and consumers receive the regulatory protections provided for under the Act and the Rules.”
To achieve this objective, the Law Society suggested that lawyers who wish to provide legal services under the proposed pro bono regime must be approved by the Law Society and be subject to necessary conditions, such as a prohibition against receiving or handling client moneys and a requirement to have relevant experience and training.
“It is important to strike the right balance between having necessary protections in place, and not creating an overly heavy administrative burden for employed lawyers who wish to provide legal services under the proposed regime,” says Tim Stephens from the Law Society’s Law Reform Committee.
The submission also recommended including a definition of “pro bono legal services” to avoid any confusion and uncertainty as to the breadth of the proposed scheme. Most definitions in other jurisdictions include an element of meeting unmet legal needs or advancing a social or public interest cause.
“This definition is key. If the Bill is to proceed, the committee should ensure that the Bill’s language reflects its policy goals. The committee also needs to recognise the additional costs associated with implementing regulation of the scheme,” says Mr Stephens.
The select committee will report back to the House by 24 September 2021.
The Law Society’s submission on the Bill can be downloaded here.
You can read the Bill here.