Three important issues
As I enter my first days and weeks as the New Zealand Law Society President, I am aware of the many issues that arise both within and outside the profession in terms of the rule of law, law reform, the regulation of the profession and the Law Society as a provider of services to support lawyers as professionals.
From our highly regarded law reform work to our libraries, from our collegial activities to the service so many lawyers provide in the regulation of the profession, the organised profession is very active indeed. Continuing the outstanding service the Law Society provides to New Zealand society will be very important.
In addition, there are three areas that will continue to require focus and significant direction from the leadership of the profession. These are not new but in our current environment they are more important than ever:
- Access to justice;
- Promotion and retention of women in the law; and
- Practising well.
A society that does not ensure access to justice for all its citizens is simply an unjust society. However, we hear the phrase so much it can start to lose its meaning and its importance. As Canada’s well-known Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin has said: “the most advanced justice system in the world is a failure if it does not provide justice to the people it is meant to serve. Access to justice is therefore critical”.
As a profession we can’t afford to fail our society, and we will not. This is a foundational issue and one in which all lawyers (not just litigators) should take an interest. I have talked before about how we are in a privileged position and that we need to be constructive and innovative in our approach to the solutions to this issue. There will not be one solution. I believe there is a need for significant change and the profession has an important role to play in achieving the fundamental transformation needed in society.
The promotion and retention of women in the law is an issue that requires ongoing and continuous reflection. There is no easy answer.
I am already working with interest groups, speaking at young lawyers’ events and communicating with other practitioners outside our jurisdiction to draw on their experience.
I will also be looking to work with our many women lawyers’ associations and branch women’s committees throughout the country to further progress on this important issue.
Not long before I took office as President, the first meeting of the Law Society Women’s Advisory Panel was held. The Law Society is now looking at a combination of initiatives that have been historically successful as well as new initiatives. We are looking to try some different approaches as well as assess what has been done and has been successful. This will not happen overnight, but the basis is in place.
The Practising Well initiative is an essential part of the service the Law Society provides the profession. It already provides support and resources. Presently we have two partners: Lifeline Aotearoa and Business Mentors New Zealand, which focus on healthy minds and healthy practices. We are constantly looking at ways we can continue to develop our resources in this area and in particular looking to ensure that the whole of our legal community (wherever located) has access and knows how to access collegial support and services when needed, whether for themselves or colleagues.
As I mentioned, connectivity and collegiality are a very important part of practising well also. This is a key focus of the service provided by Law Society sections and branches around New Zealand. Our sections and branches do great work and need our support. They provide wonderful line of communication both locally and to the wider national profession. Speaking about connectivity, this issue of LawTalk features another look at lawyering in particular geographical areas of New Zealand, as it has done a number of times in the past. This issue will focus on lawyering in Nelson.
As President, I look forward to serving you, the lawyers of New Zealand, and to being an accessible and credible face on your behalf.