In my previous column for LawTalk in June this year I wrote about the massive disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the effect it was having on our personal and professional lives.
New Zealand has since emerged as one of the few countries to have controlled the transmission of the virus in our communities, although this has involved extremely strict controls on our borders and compulsory quarantine for all those arriving in New Zealand.
Elsewhere, Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc on societies and economies. At the time of writing the number of global cases had exceeded more than 16 million with almost 650,000 people dying from the disease.
We can look back with pride about how our ‘team of five million’ came together and successfully controlled the spread of the virus. It is also good to reflect on the role of the Law Society, from our governors to our staff and volunteers, in assisting the profession and the judiciary to maintain services during a lengthy period of disruption.
At the same time, we need consider the likely long-term effects of the pandemic and how we can adjust to them as a profession and a society.
Historian Professor Kyle Harper, the author of The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease and the End of an Empire, recently gave a very sobering interview on Radio New Zealand where he spoke about how, despite its advanced infrastructure and immense power, the Roman Empire was brought down by pandemic and climate change.
The Roman Empire was struck by the Antonine Plague between AD165 and 180 and the Plague of Cyprian from about AD 249 to 262. As Professor Harper describes it the lethal pandemic struck almost out of the blue at a moment of peak population, prosperity and imperial power.
“There is something about our psychology that maybe makes us forget the catastrophes that are inevitably going to occur in human history,” he told the interviewer.
So how do New Zealand lawyers as a profession learn from history? Professor Harper suggests the ‘silver lining’ from Covid-19 might be its role in providing us with a powerful reminder of our vulnerability and help us develop forms of response and social capital that improve our resilience.
This is where the Law Society’s well-being programme has an important role to play. One initiative, launched nationally during the pandemic lockdown after a successful pilot, is our new mentoring programme, an ideal way for the profession to help each other build resilience.
Almost 300 people have registered, and more than 150 mentoring matches have been made since we launched the national mentoring programme on 14 May 2020 after a successful pilot. This is a virtual platform and it’s been gratifying to see that we are attracting a diverse group of mentors and mentees.
Another way of building social capital is getting involved in the political process. This is an option that has attracted many lawyers. Two of the world’s most influential leaders, former United States President Barack Obama and Nobel prize winner and South African President Nelson Mandela, were both practising lawyers earlier in their careers.
At least nine of our Prime Ministers worked in the legal profession before going into politics, and in the last election alone at least 31 lawyers were vying for a spot on the parliamentary benches.
During his interview with LawTalk this month Justice Minister Andrew Little reflected on how the skills he gained as a lawyer had proven useful as a politician.
“You get used to dealing with lots of information, deciphering and distilling it, and stating your position effectively.”
In this edition of LawTalk Dennis Gates takes a look at the role of reputation in being a succesful lawyer. In this era of radical societal change, and with the focus the Law Society and legal profession in New Zealand have had on buiding a healthier, safer culture this is a pertinent subject.
Dennis touches on an interesting point about the change in client relationships that the AML/CFT legislation has brought in, meaning all clients must be treated as an unknown entity and verified.
For those who place a strong value in trusted relationships this can present potentially difficult situations. But with the AML/CFT requirements now entering their third year it is clear they are very much now part of our legal landscape. We take a look at the first two years of the legislation and why it has proved to be so complex.
Whether it is responding to a pandemic, negotiating the political landscape, practising as a lawyer, or being a partner in a law firm, values are fundamental to maintaining trust.
Michelle Obama, an American lawyer and author who was the first lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017 puts it well when she says: “I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values – and follow my own moral compass – then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.”
Chief Executive, New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa