Tēnā koutou katoa.
This is the last time I’ll be speaking to you as President of ADLS.
The next time you hear from me, it will be as President of The Law Association. From 1 October 2023, this will be our organisation’s new name.
The decision to change our name wasn’t taken lightly. For the past year we’ve been taking soundings from our members, non-members and staff, and doing research and gathering feedback.
As a national organisation with 44% of our membership based outside Auckland, we wanted our name to reflect our New Zealand footprint. At the same time, we’ve been looking at how we can grow as an organisation and what other services and benefits we might provide for our members and for the legal profession as a whole.
Some people reminded us that we have a legacy developed over 144 years and urged us not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. This group, largely older and more experienced lawyers, like the ADLS or Auckland District Law Society names because that’s what they’re used to.
But at the other end of the spectrum is an equally hardcore and passionate group who much prefer The Law Association. They don’t like the “Auckland” part of the current name, nor the fact that we were calling ourselves a law society.
When we put it to the vote, the majority of our members were in favour of the proposed new name. What I’m hearing around the traps is “we love your forms, we love your events, we love your CPD. You can call yourself whatever you like.”
We too have an issue with continuing to describe ourselves as a law society because we haven’t actually been a law society since 2008 when the new NZLS structure, governed under the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006, was put in place. So, the name is historical and refers to an entity that no longer exists.
Despite the name-change, the ADLS brand won’t completely disappear and you will continue to see it on products such as our WebForms.
Structurally, we will remain an incorporated society, with our own rules and our own governance structure. But with the name-change will come a change of focus. As a brand, The Law Association is not just a brand for the profession but will be a brand for all legal professionals. I think the best way of explaining it is to say that in the past, we’ve been seen as an advocate for lawyers – and we’ve done that exceptionally well. But we now want to expand on that, engaging more broadly with other professional organisations and key decision-makers in New Zealand. One thing, however, will not change and this is what makes us distinctive: our independence.
On 24 August, less than two months before the election and just a week before Parliament’s final sitting for this term, NZLS sent the Minister of Justice its response to the recommendations of the independent panel reviewing the legal profession.
But in my opinion, much more work and consideration is needed before a solution is found and the government is asked to legislate for change.
It is premature to send a report to the minister before NZLS has reached a clear and consistent position on the review panel’s recommendations.
So, what do you do in the present circumstances if you’re the government? Do you go back to the Law Society and tell it to give these matters the further consideration they need and come to a view about what you want us to do? In the meantime, we won’t do anything. Or does the minister give the report to her bureaucrats and say, “you design something that will regulate lawyers”?
I would be deeply concerned about the latter option because it takes control out of the hands of the profession.
In my view, NZLS should have told the government and the profession that it wasn’t ready yet to put a recommendation to the minister. It needed to do a lot more work.
It may take two more years, but this is really important because it will put in place the structure that will govern the profession for the next 20 years.
NZLS needs to engage properly with the profession and then state its position and take it to the government, along with a solution. But it hasn’t done that and I’m concerned we will lose this opportunity because the response is so equivocal.
It contains 23 individual recommendations, compiled by 20 NZLS council members. Councillors could accept, reject or agree in principle with each recommendation, or decide that further consideration was necessary. All up, 70% of the responses were in the equivocal “agree in principle” or “further consideration necessary” categories. Only 21% accepted the recommendations and 8.3% rejected them outright.
So the NZLS response is saying “well, 70% of us only accept these recommendations in principle or want further consideration”. One in 11 lawyers is saying No. This shows the governing body is not speaking with one voice. Like the profession itself, the NZLS council appears divided on these fundamental issues.
A better approach would have been to say to the profession, “this is a big topic, we’re going to break it down into chunks and take a lot of time and we’re going to actually engage better with you”.
There are 15,000 lawyers in New Zealand. When NZLS did a survey at the start of the process on the terms of reference for the independent panel, it got a 4.1% response rate. Then it did a survey on the panel’s recommendations and got 5.8%. And only 1.2% of lawyers in this country made a submission.
NZLS ran two webinars during the consultation period. The response rate was 1% of lawyers for the first webinar and 1.4% for the second. I acknowledge that plenty of opportunity was given for engagement but actual engagement was scant, meaning the process didn’t work.
In my view, the Law Society should have recognised it needed to find a different way to connect with members. It needed to find out what the majority of its members wanted, rather than only 5% or 6%. It could have gone into workplaces and found creative solutions to encourage members to fill in survey forms, or the like.
Getting proper engagement will take time but NZLS needs to talk to people, rather than merely giving them the opportunity to share their views. And only then should it go to the government and say, “we have had genuine consultation and we are unanimous in our view that the profession should do X”.
Then it’s so much easier for the government to act because it knows what the profession wants.
We need to control our own destiny. So we should be doing a lot more work, having a lot more engagement, presenting the answer to the government and then pushing for it to be implemented.
In my first six months as president, I’ve really enjoyed getting around the country and meeting lots of other lawyers. I’ve also attended ADLS collegiality events in central Auckland, Hamilton, south Auckland, east Auckland, Tauranga and Wellington. These were fantastic events. In Hamilton, for example, 92 lawyers attended the function at this great little bar in the central city and everyone had a great time, meeting new people, sharing war stories and talking about life in general. The event was meant to finish at 2pm. I left at about 2.45pm to catch a flight and everyone was still in full swing.
If you haven’t attended one of these events yet, I’d encourage you to go along. It’s a great opportunity for younger lawyers, in particular, to catch up with colleagues, meet new people and put faces to names, rather than just communicating online.
When I was starting my career, my boss would send me up to the Land Transfer Office to search titles or to the Companies Office and while I was there, I would talk to other young lawyers who were doing the same thing.
It worked well, because if I had an issue with a file on a Friday afternoon, I could pick up the phone and ring a colleague who I’d met at the Companies Office or the Land Transfer Office and I could ask them for help.
Back then, you got to meet other lawyers in the course of your work. You’d have a coffee or a beer with them but nowadays, of course, everything’s done online and younger lawyers don’t get to meet one another face-to-face. This is why our collegiality events can be so useful and you get to have a good time as well.
Some members have mentioned that things are slow on the work front, particularly in the commercial and property area, though property might be starting to pick up as people realise it’s time to get back into the market. But some commercial practices in parts of the country are quiet.
I think people are nervous about recession, pre-election uncertainty and the cost-of-living crisis. Some of those who are thinking about selling their businesses are holding back as they’re worried they won’t get a decent price while others who have been considering quitting their job and buying a business are also holding back.
This regular bread-and-butter work has slowed up for some of our members, which is a concern, and it contrasts hugely with what criminal lawyers, particularly in Auckland, are experiencing. Many are overwhelmed with their case-loads, working nights and weekends and still not keeping on top of it.
Hopefully the election, whichever way it goes, will deliver some certainty and things will get back on track for us all. A win for the All Blacks in Paris on 29 October will also be very welcome.