This is a rare opportunity to shape the future of the legal profession.
It is critical that ADLS members – and, in fact, all lawyers – provide comment and feedback as we are impacted by, and subject to, the rules and regulations of the New Zealand Law Society.
We now have the chance to shape the future, based on our professional experience. This opportunity to give meaningful comment will not come around again for a very long time.
If we don’t speak out, there is a risk that the independent review panel will have insufficient information on which to base its conclusions and make meaningful recommendations. The panel cannot work in a vacuum. It needs comment and feedback from those who have experienced the way NZLS has done its job.
Lawyers all around the country will have a range of views on these issues. Below are my opinions but within the profession there are as likely to be as many views as there are practitioners. The ADLS Council is keen to understand what members think about these very important issues and we will be feeding this back to the panel. I strongly encourage you to have your say and provide your comments before the 12 August cut-off date.
A major area of dissatisfaction within the profession is how complaints and regulatory procedures are dealt with. This has a huge impact on individual lawyers and their firms. For example, the complaints procedure moves very slowly. This is difficult for the lawyer who is the subject of the complaint. And because we are not aware of who is before the board, we might continue our professional relationship with someone who is facing a serious complaint which could impact on the way we perform ourselves.
Timeliness is critical. Complaints need to be dealt with quickly. It is also important that interested parties are kept informed of the progress of a complaint. I know of someone who made a serious complaint about three years ago and still has no idea about the outcome, or whether the complaint even proceeded.
Name suppression is another issue. It will always be seen by non-lawyers as discriminatory but being the subject of a complaint is a major issue for practitioners and their reputation. The rules need to be clearer but in my view the default position should be suppression. Failing that, we need clearer guidelines about what a lawyer will face should he or she come before the disciplinary tribunal.
On the issue of an independent regulator, I think this function should remain under the umbrella of NZLS. The legislation and the obligations are already in place, along with the regulatory structure. I want NZLS to maintain that position and become more efficient and effective in the way it carries out this function.
In my view, lawyers and NZLS need to retain control of the profession. Under an independent regulator, I think we would have less ability to critique and try to improve the system, as an independent is likely to resist our input. Lawyers need to be subject to NZLS regulation but retain the ability to monitor and hold their society accountable.
Another problem for me is the time and effort needed to get lay people up to speed on the way the profession thinks and works. Most non-lawyers have no real understanding of how to run a practice or the issues we confront daily while doing our jobs.
But I don’t think NZLS can retain both the regulatory and representative functions. There is too much potential for conflict – you can’t represent people and carry a stick as well. To read the consultation document and provide feedback, please click here ■