New Zealand Law Society - Guidance on professional standards and reporting obligations

Guidance on professional standards and reporting obligations

Rules governing the behaviour of lawyers, with an emphasis on tackling bullying, discrimination and harassment came into force from 1 July 2021. This guidance is intended to help you understand your obligations under the rules, and the changes to the reporting obligations that have been introduced for prohibited behaviour, and to help protect and support those affected by this type of conduct.

Overview of Guidance

Chapter 1: Reporting misconduct and unsatisfactory conduct

  • If you have reasonable grounds to suspect that misconduct may have occurred, you must report it to the Law Society.
  • Misconduct and unsatisfactory conduct in relation to lawyers are defined in sections 7 and 12 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 (LCA).
  • There are limited exceptions, such as when the information has been received while providing confidential advice or support to another lawyer, or acting as a member of a Friends Panel. This exception does not apply if there is a serious risk to the physical or mental health or safety of another person, or if disclosure is needed to prevent a crime or a fraud.
  • You can also report concerns for the welfare of another lawyer or legal employee to the Law Society.

Chapter 2: Rules to protect employees and others

  • There are clear expectations on law practices to protect all employees.
  • Law practices must have policies and systems to prevent and protect employees, and other people the law practice engages with from prohibited behaviour, including procedures to investigate complaints.
  • Law practices must have a designated lawyer who will report to the Law Society about conduct amounting to bullying, discrimination, harassment, or violence.

Chapter 3: Support for people affected

  • If you or someone else have been affected by bullying, discrimination, harassment or other forms of prohibited behaviour, there is support and help available.
  • Law Society options for support include:
    • Vitae Legal Community Counselling Service: 0508 664 981
    • Law Care free phone line: 0800 0800 28
    • National Friends Panel members who deal with sensitive matters.

Chapter 4: What to do if you receive a complaint or a report

  • All lawyers must have procedures for handling client complaints, and they must tell their clients about those procedures before they commence work for the client.
  • All law practices must have effective policies and systems in place to prevent and protect employees, and people they engage with from the effects of prohibited behaviour.
  • If you receive a notice of a complaint or a report from the Lawyers Complaints Service, you will be invited to respond.
  • Lawyers are required to respond to enquiries from the Law Society respectfully and in a timely manner.
  • You must not victimise the person who made the report or complaint.
  • If you are subject to a complaint, you can contact a member of the Complaints Advisory Panel for free and confidential advice.

Chapter 5: Terminating instructions: prohibited behaviour by a client

  • A retainer can be terminated if the client’s conduct towards a lawyer or person associated with the law practice amounts to bullying, discrimination, harassment, racial or sexual harassment, threatening behaviour or violence.
  • Terminating a retainer in the circumstances above is consistent with a law firm’s existing employer obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, the Employment Relations Act 2000, and the Human Rights Act 1993.
  • A law practice may take steps to protect its staff, but must ensure that any steps taken, such as reassigning the client to another lawyer at the law practice, does not unfairly disadvantage the staff concerned.
  • Refusing instructions or terminating a retainer without genuine grounds for good cause may amount to unsatisfactory conduct or misconduct.

This is just an overview. Please ensure you read the Guidance in full

Further information

Fact sheets: downloadable and printable