New Zealand Law Society - An audacious faith in the future

An audacious faith in the future

An audacious faith in the future

Law Society President Jacque Lethbridge reflects on her first two months as President, including a look to the future through the major focusses she has for her time in the role.

With the first two months as President now complete, I have a keener eye not only on my goals for the Law Society and wider profession but with a gaze set firmly to our shared future. “We must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future” Dr Martin Luther King said in his 1967 speech “Where do we go from here”. Better words I could not think of to define the theme of this LawTalk edition which focuses the lens on celebrating our future and the rich diversity it promises.

Despite being only two months into the President’s role formally, it has been a busy and productive time. From appearing in the Supreme Court for the valedictory sitting of the Honourable Justice William Young, to engaging directly with the now former Minister of Justice and Ministry officials on key Law Society priorities, through to representing and speaking at events on behalf of the Law Society like the Donoghue v Stevenson 90th anniversary conference and the NZ Asian Lawyers event, and engaging directly with practitioners at events across our country. I have taken immense heart at the passion of lawyers across Aotearoa New Zealand and your determination to undertake not only your day-to-day work but the volunteer work necessary to contribute to the profession and our society.

Equality of access to justice is fundamental to upholding the rule of law and no person is immune from contact with the justice system

Equality of access to justice is fundamental to upholding the rule of law and no person is immune from contact with the justice system. Before looking forward, I want to acknowledge the fruitful work the Law Society has led over recent years which has resulted in the boost in funding for legal aid services delivered in Budget 2022 to the tune of $190m. It is the most significant boost to the legal aid sector in more than a decade and its impacts will reverberate across our society. New Zealanders from all walks of life will benefit from increased access to justice that this boost will provide. The Law Society, under the leadership of former President Tiana Epati, took a fact based approach in commissioning Colmar Brunton to carry out a survey which showed that over 20,000 Kiwis could not access legal aid representation in 2021.

While there is still more to do, we can be proud of our collective efforts. One particular area that will need addressing is the legal aid fixed fee rate. This received no change in the increase in funding and remains a point of contention for continued work. Much of the legal aid work undertaken in Aotearoa New Zealand is remunerated through the fixed fee rate so a change to the fixed fee rates is necessary to ensure meaningful change for those practicing in the criminal and family jurisdictions.

A remaining area that must be addressed is civil legal aid and this will be a particular focus of mine as President one that I have begun by attending the hui for Wayfinding for Justice which is exploring alternatives for our civil jurisdiction. I also attended a hui with Judge David Clark and officials from the Ministry of Justice to discuss initiatives being tested by the judiciary in the District Courts in the Auckland region.

Recognition for the work the Law Society undertakes is one of the ‘3 R’s’ that will guide my presidency. The other two – representation and regulation – have been no less important in the past two months.

On the regulatory front, the Minister of Justice has signed off on an increase to practising fees from the 2022/23 year. The Law Society, like all organisations has had to pivot and absorb the financial impact of Covid-19. In the last two annual reports, the Law Society has outlined to the profession the significant investment that has had to occur in order for modern systems, processes, structure and staff capability to meet the needs of a burgeoning profession. A rigorous Board-driven process has been undertaken to assess what further investment is needed and we advised that the practising certificate fee is increasing by $150 to $1290 per annum. There are also some smaller increases to other fees such as those for practicing on own account. Two levies are being reduced.

The increase will allow the Law Society to partially fund the strategic initiatives in the draft budget for 2022/23, including major IT infrastructure and systems upgrades and the once-in-a-generation Independent Review. In addition, we will be utilising capital reserves while also maintaining adequate reserves for future investment. These strategic initiatives allow us to keep tracking forward as a fit-for-the-future regulator while the Independent Review takes place.

This edition of LawTalk is all about the next generation – our new and emerging lawyers. Most of who are young, some of who are not so young, but all who are passionate about the profession and about the desire to serve the public and the law

But it is representation I want to focus on in this LawTalk. We rightly are showcasing an important portion of our industry – those who enter the profession. It doesn’t matter whether you are entering at 24 or 44, New Lawyers make an important contribution to the fabric of our industry.

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change,” Albert Einstein once quipped. His point wasn’t that all change is intelligent, more that when you consider that change in our ever-evolving world is inevitable, it’s clear that everyone must become proficient at navigating change, or problems will become as inevitable as change itself.

Change is mostly good. Not just because of the old adage that it keeps us from standing idle, but it presents us with the chance to make things better. Recently, the Independent Review Panel (the Panel) launched their Discussion Document on the future of legal services in Aotearoa New Zealand and the Law Society. Consultation runs until 12 August 2022 and it is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the profession to influence its future and build the foundations for success. You can read about the Panel’s work and the questions they have posed further inside LawTalk. I encourage all lawyers to ensure they read the document and get involved in the many opportunities to consult with the Panel and give submissions to the Panel about their views. Make your voice heard.

But mostly, this edition of LawTalk is all about the next generation – our new and emerging lawyers. Most of who are young, some of who are not so young, but all who are passionate about the profession and about the desire to serve the public and the law.

This edition tells the stories of this new wave of lawyers. It shares experiences and realities from different practices, parts of the country, challenges they have had and opportunities they have grasped. Each and every one of their recounts is important because it paints a picture of what practising in modern Aotearoa New Zealand is like. They all show the terrific potential for aspiring new practitioners entering the profession to thrive in but also poses challenges that all of us collectively have to help solve.

We have made some good progress with diversifying new lawyers entering the profession but there is still much to do to make sure the legal profession reflects our society in in 2022 and that these new lawyers stay. According to our 2021 Snapshot of the Profession, more new lawyers with 0-7 years post-qualified experience (PQE) are Māori at 9.7 per cent, compared to 6.9 per cent of the profession overall. This is a good sign. However, more growth is needed for Māori and Pacific lawyers to be proportional to their communities. Collectively they comprise 10.2 per cent of the profession compared with the 24.6 per cent of the New Zealand population. As Mai Chen points out in her article, only 10 per cent of lawyers are Asian against 15 per cent of New Zealanders who identify as Asian.

To begin to make inroads into improving this, I have begun work with Mai Chen and the New Zealand Asian Lawyers Group. Established in 2013 to connect, their goal is to inspire and grow Asian leaders across New Zealand. Groups like New Zealand Asian Lawyers, Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa, the Pacific Lawyers Association and the National New Lawyers Group all play a vital role in ensuring better representation across the profession.

Finally, Donoghue v Stevenson was 90 years old on 26 May 2022. It laid the foundation of the modern law of negligence in Common Law jurisdictions across the world.

The conference which travelled around the commonwealth, was opened in Aotearoa first by New Zealand’s Chief Justice, Rt Hon Dame Helen Winkelmann, followed by a panel of experts assembled by the Law Society including Professor Geoff McLay, Professor Stephen Todd, Mike French and Andrea Challis. It was a privilege to chair the panel as President on such a historic occasion and be able to showcase the way the law of negligence has developed in Aotearoa New Zealand.

We can all be grateful that throughout this edition of LawTalk, whichever article you read, it is clear practitioners across the motu have grasped the notion that the measure of intelligence is indeed about the ability to change. And indeed, there is clear cause to say we can very much have audacious faith in the future of the profession.

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