New Zealand Law Society - Our priorities for 2021

Our priorities for 2021

Our priorities for 2021

Tē tōia, tē haumatia

Nothing can be achieved without a plan, a workforce and a way of doing things

As I head into my final year as President, it is evident we are moving forward to a new ‘normal’ where we will be having to be adaptive and responsive to an uncertain external environment. This whakatauki speaks to the importance of having a plan and the resources to deliver.

Within this context, I am focusing on three important areas of work for the Law Society. These have the potential for significant and long-lasting changes to the profession, and Aotearoa more generally.

The first is changes to the rules that govern the conduct of lawyers; the second is the Independent Review into the future of the statutory framework in which we operate; and, the third is advocating for improvements to access to justice.

We expect changes to the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008 (RCCC) to come into force in the middle of this year. This follows extensive consultation with the profession. The Rules will include clear definitions of discrimination, bullying, harassment and sexual harassment and other unacceptable conduct, with a threshold for reporting to the Law Society. Each law practice will need to have a process for addressing complaints. In addition, each practice will nominate a designated lawyer who reports on complaints to the Law Society every 12 months. We recognise this is a significant change and we will be providing guidance to the profession in advance of these changes.

The changes to the Rules draw upon the recommendations of the Cartwright Report and the 2018 Legal Workplace Environment Survey. I’m grateful to everyone who has provided valuable feedback and helped shape these important changes.

We all want healthier, more respectful and inclusive work environments. Your engagement gives me confidence that the changes articulate a shared set of expectations to help and support culture change. I know that many of you have been working on changes at your workplace as well. If we all change a little, then the whole profession will change a lot.

The second element of my plan is the Independent Review. The Review is a timely opportunity to consider the optimal organisational and governance arrangements for the Law Society. I met with Minister Faafoi in late February, and he has provided useful feedback on the draft Terms of Reference. The next stage is consultation led by Steering Group Chair, Whaimutu Dewes, on the draft Terms of Reference. Following that an individual or organisation will be appointed to conduct the Review.

The Review is expected to take nine months and will include wide consultation before any recommendations are made.

And finally, I will continue to progress our work towards access to justice this year.

Our access to justice ‘stocktake of initiatives’ has been very well received by many of the leaders in the justice sector and within our profession. It revealed significant over-lap and repetition. We want to build on this and identify where the Law Society should be partnering with stakeholders and organisations. We also want to identify where we are uniquely placed to have the greatest impact in improving access to justice. We should all be concerned with ensuring the most vulnerable of consumers are protected through a proper functioning legal aid system, and so one area we will be focusing our advocacy is the triennial review.

This is an ambitious plan of action. But as I head into the final leg of the 1000-day marathon of my President run, I think it is a time to be ambitious. We need to keep moving forward.

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