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From the Law Society

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It has been a huge privilege

This will be my final column in my capacity as President of the New Zealand Law Society.

The last three years have been busy and challenging but also enormously rewarding.

I have been fortunate to be supported by an incredibly talented, energetic and enthusiastic Law Society staff whose advice has been invaluable.

The work produced by the society, across all divisions, the specialist work of the sections through to law reform submissions is absolutely superb. In fact, politicians frequently comment to me on the importance, quality and value of those submissions. However, simply being industrious and producing work of the highest quality, on its own, will not have a great impact or influence. It is the relationship that the society has with outside agencies which has converted that great work into very tangible results. The last few years have seen a flurry of discussion documents and proposed new legislation. Enormous efforts, often under intense time pressure, have been made by lawyers around the country, dissecting, analysing and then commenting on proposed legislation, all as unpaid volunteers. Their skill and selfless contributions deserve recognition. Most of the legislative proposals, subject to minor changes, have represented improvements in our legislative framework but occasionally there are issues with which we have significant objection. On those occasions, it is the good relationship, frank, honest and robust conversations that we are able to have with the Ministry of Justice which have enabled us to secure better legislation. Credit should go to the Law Society and Ministry of Justice staff for the way in which so many of these, often sensitive issues, are dealt with for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

Not being a litigator, my previous contact prior to taking on the presidency involved little interaction with the judiciary. However, I have been lucky enough to work closely with the various heads of bench over the last three years and have so admired the dedication, commitment and integrity of our judiciary. This has often also been reinforced to me when I have travelled to overseas jurisdictions where the quality and independence of our judiciary is clearly admired.

I leave the role at a time where I see, in particular, two key issues for the profession namely, access to justice and the advancement of women in the profession. These are unlikely to be remedied in the next five years but we need to continue to strive for improvement.

On the first issue, access to justice is such a fundamental tenet of a civilised society that we cannot afford to allow any section of society to be inadequately represented.

 On the advancement of women in the profession, this is a critical issue not just for women but for all practising lawyers. The quality of the profession is threatened if talented women leave because we have been unable to address their interests properly. I have no doubt that my successor, Kathryn Beck has the skills and determination to make advancement in both these areas.

Finally, I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to represent the profession. It has been a huge privilege, quite demanding but enormously satisfying. Thank you for allowing me to be your President for the last three years.

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