NZLS independent review findings call for big changes

The panel's report recommended legislative and structural amendments, among others

NZLS independent review findings call for big changes

The New Zealand Law Society has released the results of an independent review which calls for big changes to be made in the legal profession.

The Independent Review Report was commissioned by the organisation in 2021, and the findings were publicised yesterday. Recommendations include legislative and structural change, the appointment of a new independent regulator, and an overhaul of the lawyer complaints system.

“The report we are releasing today outlines that statutory change is needed if we are going to do more to protect consumers and the public,” Law Society President Frazer Barton said.

Allegations of sexual harassment within the profession in 2018 showed that legislation and the process of complaining about lawyers were not very effective in their functions to serve the public and the profession. Thus, the Law Society sought to understand how far these issues extended and to capitalise on the opening to transition to “a more modern” regulatory environment following the establishment of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act in 2006.

“The report states that while the Law Society is working within the current legislative framework, it is overly prescriptive and inefficient”, Barton added. “The review panel found that dual functions of the Law Society also don’t serve the interests of the public or the profession well, with the functions tending to be in conflict with each other. The report states that there is a strong case for a new independent regulator with a fit for purpose governance approach”.

In addition, the report called for a new Act that emphasises the Law Society’s Te Tiriti obligations, which Barton said “highlights that we could be doing better at providing consumers with clear information about interacting with the legal profession”.

“We have set a goal of becoming a best practice modern regulator, and a strong voice for

profession through a representative function and this review has outlined a number of areas where steps are needed for improvement”, Barton said. “There is new leadership established at the Law Society and we have every confidence we have the right team to drive the changes that are needed. We have also started work on setting our future strategy for how we operate as a membership body and will be continuing to work with the profession on what that will look like”.

He pointed to the implementation of a new regulatory strategy, which he noted, “has been a significant step forward on our transformation journey to modernising the regulatory functions of the Law Society”.

“While this review has been underway, we have continued to make significant progress in line with the review panel’s conclusions, and will already be moving forward on a number of actions that are aligned with the recommendations,” Barton said. “We will be continuing to work with our team and with the profession to make progress over the coming months while we consider the recommendations, and any longer-term actions that are needed to address some of the more systemic and legislative issues that have been raised”.

He confirmed that the Law Society would be collaborating with the government to “understand the likelihood of legislative change”, acknowledging that “any legislative change wouldn’t happen quickly”. He also praised members of the profession who provided submissions throughout the review period.

At present, the Law Society board is looking through the report and is set to present recommendations to the justice minister by the end of July.

“This independent review is an important step forward to outlining the potential changes that are needed for the legal profession in the future, but it is going to take all of us working together to achieve the differences that are needed”, Barton concluded.

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