The New Zealand Law Society knows that making a complaint and investigating it can be a confronting experience for victims.
“Sexual harassment is disrespectful, discourteous and does nothing to promote or maintain proper standards of professionalism in lawyers’ dealings with others. Sexual harassment could be an indication of a lack of integrity on a lawyer’s part. While such conduct could be addressed in the human rights and employment jurisdictions, sexual harassment is also conduct of a type that could result in a determination of ‘unsatisfactory conduct’ being made against the lawyer. Some situations where an allegation of sexual harassment is made could result in a lawyer’s conduct being considered by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal, which exercises jurisdiction over misconduct and has the power to suspend or strike the practitioner off.”
- Personal observations made by a Deputy Legal Complaints Review Officer in a letter to LawTalk (Issue 914, February 2018).
Harassment and bullying has no place in the practice of law and is contrary to the values we as a profession stand for.
All lawyers are required to submit a confidential report to the Law Society if they have reasonable grounds to suspect another lawyer may have engaged in misconduct. A lawyer who has reasonable grounds to suspect that another lawyer may have engaged in unsatisfactory conduct can also make a confidential report to the Law Society. The obligation on lawyers to report unacceptable conduct applies equally to lawyers who witness the conduct as to those directly involved (subject to legally privileged communications). The obligations to report are set out in rules 2.8 and 2.9 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008. The purposes of these rules are the protection of the public and the maintenance of the integrity and reputation of the profession. Both are vital to ensuring lawyers retain the trust of the public and the clients they serve.
Guidance is available around what might constitute misconduct and unsatisfactory conduct, what happens to a report when it is received and what can be achieved through reporting.
On online facility for submitting these reports on unacceptable conduct is available on this website.
Anyone can lodge a complaint with the Lawyers Complaints Service. The Service provides assistance and information in relation to complaints, including about rights and options. If you are unsure whether you have grounds for making a complaint you can contact the Lawyers Complaints Service on 0800 261 801 or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are unsure about whether you want to make a complaint you can lodge a concern by using the online Concerns Form, and a Legal Standards Officer will phone you at a convenient time to discuss this.
In relation to sensitive matters you may wish to call the Law Care freephone service on 0800 088 28.
Further information about the Lawyers Complaints Service is available.
The Law Society's view is that settlement or non-disclosure agreements between law firms and employees cannot prevent a person from making a complaint to the Law Society. An agreement which seeks to prohibit a person from exercising their right to complain to the Law Society in return for a sum of money or some perceived advantage or concession could be unenforceable, against public policy and could breach a lawyer’s obligation to uphold the rule of law. It could also foster corrupt practices and abuses of power. It is our view that lawyers should not be able to “buy off” complainants. This has been endorsed by the Legal Complaints Review Office, the statutory appeal body for lawyer complaints.
A confidentiality or non-disclosure clause does not absolve a lawyer from the obligation to report misconduct under rule 2.8. Failure to report the matter when required to do so could result in disciplinary action being taken against the lawyers who were a party to the agreement.