The New Zealand Law Society held a training day for lawyers and lay people involved in the complaints process, today.
About 100 people were at the event which featured a wide range of key speakers including Maria Dew QC and Judge Damian Stone of the Māori Land Court.
Hayden Wilson is a partner at Kensington Swan in Wellington. He’s a senior litigator and skilled mediator and was the convenor of the Law Society Standards Committee for several years, in the past.
Today he spoke about ‘Fast, fair and effective resolution of complaints’ drawing from his experience of being on a Standards Committee.
He told the audience that it is often tempting for lawyers involved in complaints work to treat a complaint as a purely legal process.
“In my view, the complaints process and the standards committee work is not (a purely legal process),” he says.
He says it is important that people involved in the complaints process comply with the rules of natural justice and that they’re fair to all participants.
“But we are not judges and the powers we have do not equip us to make some of the fine grained distinctions that judicial processes do,” he says.
He says when comparing the processes under the 2008 Act to those under the previous 2006 Act, a very important purpose of the changes to the regulatory regime were to deal with the complaints about practitioners more effectively and more efficiently.
One of the functions of the process is to ensure that complaints about practitioners are heard and determined expeditiously.
“That’s a function of our work that often gets lost in the push and pull of complainants who will often have had very significant things go wrong that have led them to the complaints process,” he says.
Mr Wilson says a practitioner will almost always be upset by a complaint being made against them.
“Most practitioners will have this (a complaint against them) occur at some stage in their career. It’s a pretty confronting process so it’s easy for the practitioners to end up in an opposition position towards the standards committee. I’m saying this because that’s why it’s so essential that we deal with complaints as members of committees expeditiously,” he says.
He reminded the audience that some believe that professional self-regulation is an exercise in the club looking after its own.
“Those of us who’ve spent enough time on committees will know how far from the truth that actually is. But the perception is as important as the reality,” he says.
Mr Wilson spoke about an example of complaints that a group of family lawyers had told him about, where they’d all had complaints made against them upon the completion of a relationship property division. He says it was fundamentally costs complaints and these complaints took 6-9 months to resolve.
“It can be a very stressful time to go through for both parties,” he says
Hayden Wilson says in his view it is the role of the Standards Committee to deal with most of the complaints in front of them, if possible.
“Most are finally determined by the Standards Committee. It’s a very small number that goes to the Tribunal. It’s our job to deal with them fairly, to form the best view possible on the information we have, to be fair to the participants, but we have limited powers and always keep this in mind,” he says.