New Zealand Law Society - A year in review

A year in review

A year in review

New Zealand Law Society Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa President Frazer Barton looks back on the year with significant milestones reached. He also outlines the Law Society priorities for 2024 as work continues to shape a profession that is fit-for-purpose and reflects the future legal needs and aspirations of New Zealanders.

As the year draws to a close, this issue of LawTalk focusses on Tātou – our people. I want to express my gratitude to the many lawyers who have helped out in different ways during the year. Whether you provided input to the Independent Review, supplied data by responding to a survey (or three) or – most significantly of all – whether you were one of the more than 1,300 lawyers who volunteer and provide their time and expertise for the benefit of the whole legal profession, I recognise and applaud your contribution. Ngā mihi nui – thank you very much.

On the topic of our collective future, 2023 has been a significant year for the Law Society. We released the results of the Independent Review, as well as the Law Society’s response and recommendations to government. With a new government now sworn in, we will soon be briefing the Minister of Justice on our priority issues and will publish that briefing.

One of our priorities will be to seek the government’s commitment to our recommendations from the Independent Review, including separating our organisation into its two respective parts of representative and regulatory. As you will be aware, such a change requires legislative reform so it may take some years if it is prioritised by government. In the meantime, we are not standing still.

You will have heard about our proposed new representative strategy which our Council has been discussing. This is a step on the way to ensure our member services are in a strong sustainable position, both financially and to ensure our future success representing the legal profession throughout the country. You can read more about the proposed strategy and what it means for you, our members, in this issue.

Also in this issue are the results of our 2023 Legal Workplace Environment Survey, which have shown a reduction in the prevalence of sexual harassment among lawyers in the five years since our first survey. While lawyers reported that the experience was much less common, there remains a reluctance to report instances to employers and to the Law Society. I find this concerning, and I encourage anyone who is experiencing unacceptable behaviour such as harassment, bullying or discrimination or who needs support to contact the Law Society. Everyone deserves to be able to work in an environment that is safe. It’s a responsibility that is on all of us in the legal profession to make sure that happens.

In our latest snapshot of the profession, I was delighted to see that the diversity of our profession is increasing, particularly in those who are in the first seven years post qualification. Over the last year, the percentage of Māori lawyers in this cohort has risen from 9.7% to 12.1%, Pacific lawyers from 4.3% to 6.4%, and Asian lawyers from 16.2% to 22.7%. Alongside this, the number of lawyers speaking languages other than English has increased. There has been an increase in the number of te reo Māori speaking lawyers, from 156 to 216 lawyers (1.3% of all lawyers). Other languages to see an increase across the profession include everything from Afrikaans to Urdu. This diversity of ethnicity and language helps to break down barriers to access to justice for communities across Aotearoa New Zealand.

New lawyers (0-7 years post admission) continue to make up one-third of the profession, the majority of whom, are women (at just over 64%), and the number of in-house and employed lawyers sits at 29% and 34% respectively. Our annual snapshot provides valuable information about our profession and how it has evolved over time.

“I thank all our members for your commitment to our profession and the New Zealanders we serve... the challenges have been many and varied but so are the opportunities, and we all continue to serve because we want to help”

The information in the snapshot is also useful to inform our representative strategy which we are currently refreshing. We are proud of the services and support we offer you, our members. We represent 98 per cent of the profession with 13 branches and three sections. In the last year, nearly 10,000 members attended our 280 events across branches, sections and NZLS CLE. As New Zealand’s national membership body, we are the trusted voice for lawyers across the country and provide strong national representative services.

However, we have been delivering these services at low or no cost to our members and at a significant cost to our organisation. So, we are refreshing our strategy to look at ways to deliver even more value while also being financially sustainable. In developing our new strategy, our team engaged with more than 130 of our members from around the country. We ran 17 focus groups to find out from you what is important in what we offer our members. As well as this, we also met with every branch council, section executive and Council members Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa and Pacific Lawyers Association, as well as NZ Asian Lawyers.

Our Council has been discussing this throughout the year and will consider the proposed new strategy again in mid-December. Final approval, including the amount of a proposed membership subscription, will be on the agenda for the Council’s Annual General Meeting in April 2024. If approved, a subscription will be introduced to coincide with practising certificate renewals in July 2024. We will continue to keep you informed as this important work progresses.

In recent highlights, despite being in Montreal where I was attending my daughter’s wedding, I dialled into and appeared on a panel with the Chief Justice at a NZ Asian Lawyers / Law Society event in Auckland in November. I really enjoyed this. At the event Chief Justice Dame Helen Winkelmann remarked that she places huge value on the legal profession of the future looking like the community it serves – and I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment. This is a source of strength for our future, and it was gratifying to see so many judges attend and encourage a next generation of legal leaders.

I would like to congratulate our Vice President (Wellington) Ataga’i Esera, and Chief Executive Katie Rusbatch on their inclusion in NZ Lawyer magazine’s Elite Women list for 2023. Both outstanding leaders have been recognised for the work they are doing to reshape our profession. It is a real privilege to be working closely with such talented people.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the Law Society staff. The volume and breadth of their work is not always immediately visible from the outside, but the staff continue to deliver high quality work across both the regulatory and representative functions.

Lastly, I thank all our members for your commitment to our profession and the New Zealanders we serve. From Cyclone Gabrielle to lawyer wellbeing, the challenges have been many and varied but so are the opportunities, and we all continue to serve because we want to help people and solve problems. I hope that you can use the holiday season to take a well-deserved break and recharge, and that you return re-energised in the new year.

Wishing you and your families all the best for the festive season, however you choose to celebrate. And thank you, for your continuing support.