An Issue for the Profession as a Whole
We are rapidly approaching the end of another year and this is the last LawTalk for 2014. I would like to comment on three issues that have emerged as we move into 2015 and one major matter we completed this year.
2014 saw the development of a revised Intervention Rule. At its 11 April meeting, the New Zealand Law Society Council brought six years of work to fruition when it adopted a new intervention rule. This is the rule that that was approved by the Council at its 31 October meeting.
In a nutshell, the Council resolved to have an intervention rule, but with a series of exceptions. There will be additional requirements placed on barristers practising on own account who undertake work without the intervention rule in the exemption areas. This has now been sent to the Minister of Justice for her approval. Once finalised, the Law Society will communicate with the profession regarding these changes and the effect of the new rules and the requirements.
Now to the three matters on which I would like to comment as we move into 2015.
The first of these is improving the advancement of women in the legal profession. I see this as an issue not just for women but for our profession as a whole.
The Law Society is working on a number of initiatives to encourage the advancement of women and how to encourage women to remain in the legal profession and improve their representation in leadership positions. Key to this will be the development of ways in which barriers to women’s progression are recognised, and practical and innovative solutions developed.
Gender diversity is an important issue for firms. If arguments around fairness and equity don’t get you where you want to be with your partners then they will understand when you explain it may be hurting their profit and therefore coming out of their back pockets.
Let’s have a think, too, about the fact that 60% of law graduates are female. If a firm has a reputation for promoting gender diversity and can show real progress they will have the ability to attract more talented graduates. They will have 100% of the graduate recruitment pool to choose from, rather than 40%.
The second matter is Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
Our first full CPD year will end on 31 March 2015. The introduction of the scheme has progressed smoothly and I was pleased to hear many of the branch presidents at the last Law Society Council meeting saying that in their areas continuing legal education was the norm and a prominent issue for branch councils with many welcoming it and the vast majority very accepting of the changes.
The CPD scheme was launched after many years of research, discussion and development. It is a programme designed to help put the legal profession in the best position possible to offer quality legal services to the public.
The third matter is the Lawyers Complaints Service. This service is an important component of the Law Society’s regulatory role. It provides protection for consumers of legal services and it is crucial for the protection of the reputation of the profession.
I have heard some practitioners say that the Law Society makes complaining too easy. While this is a perfectly valid comment, there is a reason for that. The legal profession has obligations to ensure that it has a fair, efficient and effective complaints service. The Law Society has the responsibility for maintaining that service and it must be consumer focused and act reasonably and fairly towards consumers. This requires a robust complaints service.
The Law Society has taken a number of steps to improve its handling of complaints. In particular, it has focused on front-end handling and encouragement of the early resolution of minor complaints so our local standards committees can concentrate on the more meaty ethical and professional standards issues. We also offer the public the opportunity to express a concern to us (rather than submitting a complaint) so that we can attempt to resolve issues before they escalate into a complaint.
We are continually improving the important early resolution service. As lawyers we should also turn our minds to how we can improve our own internal complaints processes.
We are now approaching the Christmas-New Year break. I would like to wish LawTalk readers all the very best over the holiday season. Finally, all the best for a productive and fulfilling 2015.