The Independent Review Panel’s report is now available.
The Independent Review Report has recommended legislative and structural change, the establishment of a new independent regulator and an overhaul of the system for handling complaints about lawyers.
The report was commissioned by the Law Society in 2021 because it had been clear that the complaints process was no longer fit-for-purpose and was not serving the public or the profession well. This had been highlighted in 2018 with reports of sexual harassment within the legal profession.
The Law Society also wanted to take the opportunity to shift to a more modern regulatory environment given the changes that have taken place in New Zealand and internationally since the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act was introduced in 2006.
The Law Society needed to ensure that the legal profession has a strong representative voice that is responsive to the needs of the profession and the public.
a. establishing an independent statutory body, which is not a Crown Entity and not subject to direction from Ministers
b. a board of eight members, with an equal split between lawyer and public members, chaired by a public member, and at least two members with strong te ao Māori insights
c. appointment of board members by the Minister of Justice, following advice from a nominations panel comprising a mix of consumer representatives, governance experts and members of the legal profession.
a. including a Tiriti o Waitangi section, requiring those exercising powers and performing functions and duties to give effect to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi
b. setting out regulatory objectives, with an overarching objective to protect and promote the public interest
c. updating the fundamental obligations of lawyers, requiring lawyers to promote as well as protect their clients’ interests and adding a new obligation on lawyers to maintain their competence and fitness to practise.
a. maintaining the current focus of the regulatory framework on lawyers and conveyancers, rather than extending it to cover other unregulated legal service providers
b. introducing a new ‘freelance’ practising model that allows lawyers to provide services to the public in non-reserved areas, without requiring prior approval from the regulator
c. permitting employed lawyers to provide pro bono services to the public in nonreserved areas
d. permitting new business structures, to allow non-lawyers to have an ownership interest in law firms and lawyers to enter into legal partnerships with non-lawyers
e. directly regulating law firms, with new firm-level obligations.
a. giving the regulator new tools, including powers to suspend practising certificates, require practitioners to undergo a health or competence review, undertake practice reviews and impose bespoke conditions on a practising certificate
b. reviewing CPD requirements, including the current 10-hour CPD requirement, and specifying key mandatory components of CPD to be undertaken every three to five years.
a. complaints will be assessed and determined by in-house specialist staff, rather than by volunteers on Standards Committees
b. formal investigative and disciplinary processes will be reserved for those matters that require a disciplinary response from the regulator. Complaints about ‘consumer matters’ (eg, fees, delay, poor communication) will instead go through a dispute resolution process
c. the identity of a lawyer who engages in ‘unsatisfactory conduct’ will not be publicly disclosed other than in exceptional circumstances, with naming reserved for cases where the Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal finds the lawyer guilty of ‘misconduct’
d. the independent Legal Complaints Review Officer will be replaced by a small review committee convened by the regulator and staffed by external members or an external adjudicator
e. lawyers will be subject to a new duty to ensure complaints are dealt with promptly, fairly, and free of charge.
a. creating a regulator with a specific objective of “encouraging an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession” and a competence-based board that reflects diversity
b. removing regulatory barriers that are having a discriminatory effect
c. giving the regulator new powers to collect diversity data from law firms and publish aggregate data on trends within the profession.
On 28 March and 3 April the Independent Review Panel held livestream sessions to give the profession a chance to hear the main recommendations and ask questions about the report.
A recording of the 3 April session is available to watch: https://youtu.be/jIAIjXhgero