In April 2022, I commence the role of 32nd President of the New Zealand Law Society.
There is much to be optimistic about and celebrate. But there are also new and serious challenges, not only in the way we organise and regulate our profession, but also in how we take care of and represent our profession; and equally in how we defend the rule of law and promote a just society.
These challenges present themselves against a backdrop of extraordinary upheaval not seen since WWII. Western societies are wrestling with economic and social disruption. Demagoguery is on the rise. There is heightened tension between protection of the common good, and defence of individual rights.
Being a lawyer brings privileges and a status which in return requires service to the public good. If this is trite and a truism, it is so for a reason. It remains correct.
Less acknowledged is that we are collegially bound. Professions like ours oblige us to look after one another.
Within this context, what can I best achieve as President? And how can I achieve it on your behalf?
The goals and the challenges
My goals as your next President are grounded – as they have to be – in the dual role that the Law Society is given under Part 4 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 (LCA), its function being to regulate the profession effectively (s 65) and also to do all in its power to represent it (s 66).
I have three overarching objectives on your behalf.
My first objective relates to our need to scrutinise ourselves, and improve our performance.
On the regulatory front, the Law Society must be an excellent regulator. Our fundamental mission must always be to protect the public, for whose benefit our rules and ethics are maintained and our privileges extended. We must do so fairly, promptly and effectively. We must ensure that our profession is a safe and respectful place in which all lawyers can work.
The Law Society has made major progress over the past three years on reviewing our regulatory function. Most recently, we have commissioned an Independent Review investigating how the Law Society is structured, how it should best be governed and whether it should continue as a representative body as well as a regulator. As I write this column, the Independent Review Panel chaired by Professor Ron Paterson commences its work, examining us root and branch.
To this end, then, as President I will ensure that the Independent Review is adequately resourced and timely, that its recommendations are well communicated to the profession and that we provide for proper consultation with the profession. I will also commit to ensuring that where we can (outside legislative change which may be needed), we adopt the Independent Review’s recommended changes.
My second objective relates to making sure the Law Society is relevant to members, supports our wellbeing, and is responsive to lawyers in carrying out its representative function.
It is an exciting time to be resourcing our representative function. Recently, a new wave of lawyers – much more diverse than when I first joined the profession – has catalysed this journey. One example is the National New Lawyers Group. This group is diverse in practice area, gender, ethnicity and geography and is leading initiatives to connect with lawyers in their first five years of practice. Put simply: this new wave of lawyers is challenging us to change the way we do things.
In the same vein, I have seen the Law Society improve the fabric of our profession and improve our legal system by working with the Judiciary and groups like the NZ Bar Association, ADLS Inc, the women’s lawyer groups, Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa and the Pacific Lawyers Association.
Under my watch, I hope to galvanise these interactions and to broaden them.
I know from my travels campaigning throughout Aotearoa that lawyers want to be better connected with each other, to share a common purpose, to contribute to a greater good, enjoying themselves while they do it. We all have a part to play.
Once the challenges of Covid-19 are largely behind us, I think we can better foster that sense of unity, camaraderie and concern for each other and enlist it in making our profession better.
Finally, I want the Law Society to be better understood for the influential role we play in defending our liberal democracy and shaping law. We achieve significant improvements to the legal system at no cost to the public by submitting annually dozens of considered, authoritative letters and papers to the Executive and Parliament. We’re an effective agitator or advocate. We speak out to defend our country’s democratic values, and our civil and human rights.
Our independence and mana are dependent upon Parliament and the government of the day appreciating that the Law Society and the legal profession it represents are a vital part of our system of government and way of life. We are a trusted, brave and independent voice on the law, with the skills to see when laws or proposals need change and the courage and capability to speak up. It’s vital we continue to strive for better access to justice under my Presidency. Being recognised for these achievements and objectives is vital to preserving the Law Society’s credibility, influence and independence.
Where a person comes from, informs his or her approach. In my case, although I’ve articulated some lofty goals, it is my intention to be as unassuming as I can be. Such are my beginnings.
I come from an unpretentious background, raised in the Rangitikei where I was encouraged to work hard to achieve my goals but also to serve others while doing it. This service ethic undoubtedly came from both of my parents and in particular my father who was confined to a wheelchair at the age of 27 by a diving accident. Having disability in the family taught me profound lessons.
My first, defining role in 2003 was with the Waitangi Tribunal. Hindsight tells me that this was a remarkable learning opportunity, and it remains profoundly relevant to me. Then it was to in-house roles with the Ministry of Social Development and the Public Defence Service pilot for four years before moving into private practice where I have been a partner since 2012 as a commercial litigator. I have loved being a part of this profession in everything that I have done. I believe in the value of law and what it can do for people.
I am guided by practicality built from experience over my 21 year career. I will listen and offer solutions.
It’s also my intention to celebrate our individual and collective achievements in our profession, to kindle mutual support, and foster greater diversity still.
I look forward to serving you.
As President, I’m conscious that I will be standing on others’ shoulders. The Law Society has been led by a number of outstanding presidents. Most recently, Tiana Epati has devoted enormous energy and hours to the role. She has made a tremendous contribution to the advancement of our profession, and always with courage, conviction, and wisdom. On behalf of you all I thank her for her service.