New Zealand Law Society - Embracing our ‘New Normal’

Embracing our ‘New Normal’

Embracing our ‘New Normal’

New Law Society president Frazer Barton explores the ‘New Normal’ and how the profession is embracing change, opportunity and hope as we finish 2022 and look towards a busy 2023.

Perhaps Einstein meant, when he said “the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination,” that it is more than just thoughts but ideas and action that matter. There is no doubt that the legal profession and the Law Society itself has grabbed the opportunity to imagine a better future, and begin to explore what can be done to build that future.

The Independent Review Panel is due to report back shortly with its recommendations following extensive consultation with the profession and key stakeholders. It has been a substantial piece of work and I want to acknowledge Professor Ron Paterson, Jane Meares and Professor Jacinta Ruru for their thoughtful and invaluable contributions over the last 12 months. We expect that the Panel’s proposals will offer us the chance to improve the way we regulate and provide services. After we’ve received that report, I look forward to working alongside you to implement the changes we need to make us a fit-for-now and fit-for-the-future regulator and profession.

In a similar vein, this ‘New Normal’ edition of LawTalk doesn’t explore our emergence from COVID-19 as a lot of other publications and thought pieces have done. It discloses the work across our profession and the legal world to embrace and take the opportunities that technology, new ways of thinking, and changes to the workplace environment have given us.

One favourite article each year is our annual Snapshot of the Profession. As you will read, while progress is happening, it is slower than we would all want. We can take heart that the indicators are moving in the right way to establish a more diverse profession that looks like New Zealand. A key priority of the Law Society is to ensure we get more voices and diversity across the legal community, and that means starting far earlier in the cycle to ensure we bring in people who come from different backgrounds, communities and experiences. Initiatives like the National New Lawyers Group are part of a wider piece of work the Law Society is doing to understand what we need to do better and drive performance at all levels.

Likewise, Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Hon Michael Wood shares with us the challenges global labour shortages are having on New Zealand more acutely, and the need for businesses to look for new ways of increasing productivity rather than lowering the cost of labour. Recent changes to employment legislation to allow sectors to initiate fair pay agreements is a dramatic shift in the way our workplaces bargain and negotiate.

The Law Society’s Annual Report shows an organisation taking every opportunity to explore and utilise the new normal. The theme of the annual report – Transforming for the Future – is more than just a slogan. It is a call to action for the entire organisation. We have achieved much change at both governance and operational levels which we can be proud of.

The legal profession is changing at pace and the Law Society is making good progress to do the same.

Key highlights from the Annual Report include:

  • The Independent Review Panel was formed and the Review itself was conducted. While we await the outcome of the Independent Review Panel’s final recommendations, we can be heartened by the widespread engagement of the legal profession on shaping the future of our workforce;
  • The implementation of the Regulatory Strategy, and work towards our Representative Strategy and Organisation Strategy is well underway;
  • Increased support for legal aid was championed by the Law Society and the Government provided a small increase in Budget 2022;
  • Implemented changes to Conduct and Client Care Rules including mandatory reporting of bullying, harassment and discrimination, and consultation on proposed Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 amendments completed and reported to the Minister of Justice;
  • Building on our membership successes by launching a National New Lawyers Group and enhancing relationships across different legal communities;
  • Approved the establishment of a Climate Change Law Reform Committee;
  • Achieved an 82 per cent response rate to survey of eligible Gender Equality Charter signatories; and
  • Sixty-four Bills and 91 discussion documents reviewed, and 26 Bills and 47 Discussion documents were submitted on.

There is always more for us to achieve, and we are not done with becoming a fit-for-now and fit-for-the-future regulator, but we are absolutely certain that we are Transforming for the Future in ways which the legal profession and the wider public can have trust and confidence.

LawTalk takes a look at the international environment when it comes to legal innovation, and what other comparable jurisdictions are doing to improve access to justice whilst maintaining the integrity of the institutions which are so important to the rule of law and to democracy.

There are a myriad of other exciting articles to explore in this final edition for 2022. We ask some leaders who are at the forefront of legal innovation to share some of the big achievements they have seen in the last year. There is something in here for everyone, and I suspect might spark some of that imagination Einstein talked about, for how we all can embrace the ‘New Normal’.

Finally, becoming the 33rd president isn’t a role defined by one person – it is a role which brings together the entire profession and represents them and their interests. I intend to speak with as many members of the wider legal community as possible about the issues that matter to them and the issues of focus for the Law Society as we move into 2023 and beyond.

Again, thanks to each and every one of you for your ongoing contribution to the Law Society. As a practitioner myself, I know a lot of the work we do doesn’t see the light of day. But we are fortunate to have such a highly skilled and motivated profession which does the necessary work the rule of law demands of us all.

From the entire team at the Law Society, I want to wish you and your families a very happy Christmas. I hope you take the opportunity over the summer to enjoy the company of your friends and family, rest up for a big year ahead, and use the opportunities we have with the ‘New Normal’ to imagine new prospects for yourselves and our wider profession.