Lawyer behaviour to be checked against Lawyers and Conveyancers Act amendments

The new rules take effect on 1 July, and focus on addressing bullying and harassment

Lawyer behaviour to be checked against Lawyers and Conveyancers Act amendments

Lawyers’ behaviour will be checked against new rules following the amendment of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006.

The rules focus on addressing issues of bullying and harassment, with the aim of clarifying “the standards of behaviour expected of lawyers when engaging with clients and colleagues,” the New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa said in a statement.

“Changes to the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008 (RCCC) were part of the recommendations by the Law Society’s Independent Working Group chaired by Dame Silvia Cartwright,” Law Society President Tiana Epati said. “Implementing these changes is the most significant regulatory step available to the Law Society to tackle the behaviour highlighted by the Legal Workplace Environment Survey in 2018.”

The definitions of bullying, discrimination and both racial and sexual harassment, which Epati said have “no place in any profession,” have been modified for clarity. Moreover, new requirements for reporting unacceptable conduct to the Law Society have been implemented to facilitate “an appropriate regulatory response.”

Law practices must develop and implement policies to “protect staff and clients and to have a process for investigating allegations of unacceptable conduct,” the Law Society said. Practices will also be required to designate a lawyer to report any investigations of unacceptable conduct to the Law Society every year.

“This emphasises the responsibility of each lawyer and law practice to deal with and report unacceptable conduct, rather than individual lawyers having to come forward,” the Law Society said.

Prior to approval by the Minister of Justice, the new governing rules were developed through a consultation with the legal profession. Draft guidance that will help clarify lawyers’ obligations is also set to be presented for consultation early next month.

Epati expressed her confidence that the amendments were supported by the profession, but she also emphasised the importance of individual responsibility among members of the industry.

“While these rules are one way the Law Society can bring about change, real and long-lasting change will only take place when everyone takes responsibility,” she said. “That may be showing up to support a colleague, calling out inappropriate behaviour or helping to build a supportive, non-discriminatory environment within your legal workplace. Everyone has an individual part to play so the public can have trust and confidence in the legal profession.”

The new rules are set to take effect on 1 July. An online webinar open to all lawyers will be held on 3 May.

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