New Zealand Law Society - A strong voice for the profession

A strong voice for the profession

A strong voice for the profession

New Zealand Law Society Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa President Frazer Barton shines a spotlight on the importance of wellbeing in the profession and looks to the transformative year ahead as the Law Society launches its’ membership offering whilst looking to ways to strengthen itself as an effective regulator. 

It’s been a busy start to the year for all concerned at the Law Society. In this issue of LawTalk we examine and focus on the very real issue of mental wellbeing and how we can better support and look after our people.

There are more and more demands on lawyers and there are many clients under a lot of pressure dealing with the array of social issues out there.

It takes longer to get things through the courts and to get the sort of outcomes that clients want. For example, those working in estates have had a particularly frustrating time of it with significantly longer wait times to get probate which means that estates can’t be administered, leaving angry clients and exasperated lawyers.

Pressure and delays in our justice system are not just limited to court proceedings. I have written to the Minister of Justice on behalf of the profession seeking the prioritisation of work to address current probate processing delays. Practitioners have stressed the need to increase the threshold at which a grant of probate is required, which has remained at $15,000 for more than a decade.

While the Ministry of Justice has taken steps to improve processing times and clear the backlog, these delays are creating serious difficulties for bereaved families and their lawyers. We have asked that priority is given to this issue.

We know all of these pressures impact on the health and wellbeing of our profession. As you will read in this edition, lawyer wellbeing needs collective effort to be effective according to clinical psychologist, Dr Sarah Anticich. She points out that wellbeing is a team sport, and I couldn’t agree more. Meanwhile Emma Clarke, a PhD candidate who also features in our coverage of mental wellbeing says the most important thing is that lawyers feel safe to speak up and that we need to consider the impact of psychological safety on lawyer wellbeing. Healthy and well lawyers mean a healthy, strong and resilient profession.

As the new year commences, we continue with our regular stakeholder meetings with the judiciary, ministers, and officials.

In all our dealings, we will continue to advocate for the profession and be a strong voice promoting and protecting a just and accessible legal system. The Law Society has built a compelling reputation for quality, effective and objective law reform and advocacy. Our voice is highly respected, which enables us to be a strong advocate and to build long-term collegial working relationships with decision makers.

The role of the Law Society is also to work tirelessly in the background on many issues affecting our local lawyers. We work through our branches and nationally on a range of important issues from improving courthouses and health and safety in the courts through to providing support on urgent matters and emergencies. Never more so was this in evidence than a year ago when destructive floods and Cyclone Gabrielle devastated swathes of Auckland, Northland, Tairāwhiti and Hawke's Bay.

So far, it’s been a great chance to catch up with old faces and meet new ones and really connect and explain our value and worth as a membership organisation

As the nation reflected on the anniversary of the cyclone last month, I was reminded of the extensive work in terms of making sure the courts were still able to operate and deliver and that involved working closely with officials, the judiciary and the profession. We did what we could for the well-being of all practitioners affected, we kept access to library services going and ensured communication and support and access to counselling. We are grateful to all our local lawyers and representatives on the ground who kept the communication flowing and the many who went the extra mile to support colleagues, particularly when power and access to phones were limited. The profession showed once again what we can achieve together to help keep justice and legal services flowing through pandemics, earthquakes and floods.

As well as responding to the initial shock of the extreme weather events, the Law Society's Property Law Section (PLS) has continued to support lawyers working through a series of complicated property cases, some where home buyers were about to settle on properties that after the cyclone no longer existed. There is an interesting story in this edition of LawTalk where we hear from Kristine King, Deputy Chair of the PLS, with a strong buyer beware message and consumer tips on how to be financially safe when contemplating buying property in any of the flood damaged areas.

This year is already shaping up to be a big one for the Law Society. As well as business as usual, work will continue on how best we can operate within our current legal framework and on strengthening our ability to be an effective regulator. It’s important for us all to remember that those regulatory efforts are for the benefit of both the profession and consumers of legal services.

There is widespread and strong support in the profession also for impactful representative services for the legal community. The feedback that I receive is that lawyers want this to continue. If we are to do that successfully then the membership subscription is a critical element.

One of the great things about transformation within our organisation is it gives us an opportunity to take a fresh look at how and what we deliver and the extra services that we can offer to lawyers.

As this magazine goes to print, I’m going to a series of regional hui with our Chief Executive Katie Rusbatch across the motu. So far, it’s been a great chance to catch up with old faces and meet new ones and really connect and explain our value and worth as a membership organisation.

Katie and I want to hear about the issues our lawyers are grappling with. Sometimes practitioners feel they are slogging away on their own, and no one else has the same experience and maybe no one understands them. Problems, for the most part, are universal and the strong collegiality aspect of being part of the Law Society is really valued.

It’s also rewarding to connect and have enjoyable if sometimes robust conversations! We don’t pretend to have all the answers, that’s for sure. But that’s what these events are about; we’re not just coming to deliver speeches, debate is vital, we are all in this together after all, it’s a team game.