The Law Society of New South Wales releases guide to help law firms tackle discrimination and harassment

The Law Society of New South Wales (NSW) has released a guide to assist NSW law firms to identify and eliminate discrimination and harassment, both in employment practices in the workplace and during the recruitment process. The guide includes a checklist-style approach to decision-making and implementation procedure. Helping firms to ensure they are meeting best practice standards, as well as model discrimination and harassment policies, which firms can adopt, including:

  • Model Equal Opportunity Policy
  • Model Anti-Harassment Policy
  • Model Grievance Handling Procedure.

President of the NSW Law Society, Juliana Warner said: “This Guide and accompanying Model Policies are intended to identify practitioners’ current legal obligations under antidiscrimination law and provide practical tools for NSW law firms and legal practices to identify and eliminate discrimination and harassment in recruitment and employment practices. It forms part of the Law Society’s ongoing work to assist law firms and legal practices create more diverse and inclusive legal workplaces where everyone feels safe, secure and supported. Since the Law Society first developed an Equal Opportunity Policy in 1996, we have demonstrated a firm and ongoing commitment to the principles and practice of fairness of opportunity and diversity in the legal profession.”

Read more about the guide here. 

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Law Society of New South Wales launches new portal addressing sexual harassment in the workplace

The Law Society of New South Wales (NSW) has launched a new portal focusing on the issue of sexual harassment in the legal workplace. The portal is aimed to provide assistance and guidance to those who have experienced sexual harassment, as well as providing steps that solicitors can take if they have witnessed sexual harassment, discrimination or victimisation.

The Sexual Harassment in the Law portal gives access to resources including:

  • information on the steps to take for those who have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment, discrimination or victimisation in order to report it
  • resources to address and prevent sexual harassment in the profession
  • important information on new Law Society of NSW training designed to combat harassment
  • Workplace Guide and Model Discrimination and Harassment Policies
  • The Charter for the Advancement of Women in the Legal Profession
  • The Law Society’s Mental Health and Wellbeing portal
  • legislation and rules which are relevant to sexual harassment in the legal profession.

President of the Law Society of NSW, Juliana Warner has said “I feel very strongly about keeping the spotlight on this issue and continuing to find ways to create more open workplaces, backed by the appropriate policies, reporting processes and support, and ultimately empower victims to speak out without fear of negative repercussions,” Ms Warner said. Everyone has the right to feel safe and supported in their workplace. As an association that represents 43% of Australia’s solicitors, we have a responsibility to be part of the solution and ensure that victims can speak out against unacceptable behaviour in the knowledge that it will have severe consequences for the perpetrator, and not them.”

View the portal here, or read more about the portal here.

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Law Society of New South Wales welcomes new advocacy service for cognitively impaired users

The Law Society of New South Wales (NSW) has welcomed the NSW Government’s decision to invest $28million in to the Justice Advocacy Service (JAS) and the establishment of a new court-based diversion program for individuals with a cognitive impairment. 

JAS is a support service provided to victims, witnesses and defendants with a cognitive impairment. The aim of the service is to facilitate client’s ability to exercise their rights and participation in criminal justice processes. Those eligible for the service are connected with a support person when they are in contact with police, courts and legal representatives. JAS is available across NSW, including rural, regional and remote areas.

The new court based diversion program will build on the supports offered by JAS, providing more targeted assistance for people with cognitive impairment accused of low level offences.

President of the Law Society of NSW, Juliana Warner, said the Law Society has long advocated for increased diversion at all stages of the criminal justice system for people with cognitive impairments. Saying “People with cognitive impairment are currently over-represented throughout the criminal justice system. We commend the Government for investing in the JAS and providing greater support to people with a cognitive impairment. The announcement concerning new court based diversion services at Sydney’s Downing Centre, Parramatta, Blacktown, Penrith, Gosford and Lismore Local Courts is also a positive one and the Law Society looks forward to learning more details about what they will entail, when they become available.I am particularly happy to see that the new diversion program will support people with a cognitive impairment who come into contact with the criminal justice system in regional NSW.Effective diversion requires offenders to engage with adequately resourced treatment and service providers. Diversion can benefit both the offender and the wider community by addressing the causes of offending and reducing offending behaviour, as well as reducing the costs of imprisonment and hospital readmissions.”

Read more about the investment here. 

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Law Society of New South Wales urges firms to commit to the elimination of sexual harassment in the workplace

The Law Society of New South Wales (NSW) has called for law firms and legal practices around NSW to affirm their commitment to eliminating sexual discrimination, harassment and bullying in the workplace by signing up to the Law Society’s ‘Charter for the Advancement of Women in the Legal Profession’.

President of the Law Society of NSW, Juliana Warner, launched the Society’s revamped ‘Charter for the Advancement of Women in the Legal Profession’ at an event to mark International Women’s Day 2021. Originally launched in 2016, the Charter is designed to promote and support strategies to increase retention of women from all backgrounds within the legal profession, as well as encouraging womens’ career progression into senior management positions.

The Charter aims to achieve this by helping solicitors to develop a professional culture that promotes diversity and inclusion, prevents sexual harassment and bullying, and impacts positively on all practitioners in their place of work. Ms Warner said the 2021 Charter includes new provisions to prompt signatories to establish procedurally fair and transparent sexual discrimination and harassment complaints processes.

Signatories to the Charter commit to:

  • demonstrating leadership by removing gender bias and discrimination in the legal workplace
  • driving change in the solicitor profession by developing a culture that supports the retention and promotion of women from all backgrounds
  • implementing recruitment and promotion strategies that include gender diversity and gender pay equity as important considerations
  • promoting mentoring and sponsorship of women in the solicitor profession
  • encouraging and facilitating flexible work practices to support a better balance of professional and other commitments
  • ensuring that sexual harassment, or any form of bullying in the workplace, is not tolerated
  • establishing procedurally fair, safe, accessible and transparent sexual discrimination and harassment complaints processes
  • establishing training to protect complainants from victimisation, encouraging bystanders and others to report and ‘call out’ offensive and intimidating behaviour.

Ms. Warner has said: “The updated Charter is part of our ongoing work to address sexual harassment in the legal workplace and drive positive change through our policy work, advocacy and regulatory functions. This version has more targeted and explicit women’s advancement policies that deal with not only the promotion of women in the workplace, but ensuring women from all backgrounds feel safe at work, have flexibility if they are parents, and are not marginalised if they raise complaints about bullying or harassment. As a Law Society, we aim to lead; we aim to encourage; and we aim to provide our members with the best possible resources, such as the Charter, to achieve genuine change. But it is up to law firms and legal practices to interpret and adopt the Charter in a way that makes sense for their workplace and their area of practice,” Ms Warner said.”

View the Charter for the Advancement for Women in the Legal Profession here.

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NSW law society to provide solicitors with session with psychologist

The Law Society of New South Wales (NSW) has launched its new Solicitor Outreach Service (SOS) as part of its ongoing efforts to support the mental health and wellbeing of the state’s lawyers. Solicitors in the state will be provided with 3 sessions a year, with a qualified psychologist free of charge, and will also be provided with a 365 day a year psychological support hotline.

President of the Law Society of NSW, Richard Harvey, said the launch of the new SOS comes at a time when many in the legal profession are dealing with the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding: “As we well know, the legal profession is far from immune from having its own susceptibility to mental health distress. It’s possible that some members of the legal profession will be at heightened risk due to the unpredictability about the scale, duration and impact of COVID-19, along with other factors such as the challenges of working remotely, lack of regular exercise and restricted social engagement… While many large law firms and organisations provide support through their Employee Assistance Programs, there are solicitors in smaller practices, especially in regional areas, who don’t have access to this support. The Law Society is committed to providing best practice and relevant mental health and support services to all NSW solicitors.”

Read the society’s statement on the new services.

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Law Society of New South Wales launches online program for future lawyers

The Law Society of New South Wales has launched an online mentoring program for over 650 high school students across the state in the wake of ongoing social distancing requirements. The Future Lawyers programme is running over 6 weeks with different topics and lectures being given to students on topics such as an Introduction to Australian Legal Systems, Advocacy, Law Reform, Policy and Ethics, as well as a mock trial. The classes are delivered by practising solicitors, giving students a chance to interact with those in practice gaining first-hand knowledge about the sector.

President of the Law Society of NSW, Richard Harvey, said: “The Future Lawyers Programme provides the year 10 and 11 students with an opportunity to learn from experienced and knowledgeable solicitors within the comfort of their own home. When it became clear that Law Society’s face-to-face Mock Law Programmes would be impacted by COVID-19 lockdown restrictions we moved quickly to create a new online format for high school students. During these uncertain times, it is important to ensure we adapt to our current environment and create new opportunities for students considering a career in the law.”

See the full details of the programme.

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Law Society of New South Wales welcomes electronic witnessing of legal documents

Richard Harvey, President of the Law Society of New South Wales, has welcomed changes implemented by the NSW government and Attorney General, allowing for electronic witnessing of legal documents.  The move has come about as a temporary reaction to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, and has been added to the Electronic Transactions Regulation 2017.

Mr Harvey has said:

“As a result of COVID-19 restrictions, many solicitors contacted the Law Society expressing concern about the difficulties that the restrictions have created for the witnessing of legal documents.  The Law Society immediately raised these concerns with the NSW Government, and I would like to thank the Attorney General for moving so quickly to enact these provisions.  I am pleased that solicitors now have a practical alternative for the witnessing of documents in the coming weeks and months.”

For more information click here.

 

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Law Society of New South Wales launches free legal assistance to those impacted by bushfires

The Law Society of New South Wales, in partnership with Legal Aid NSW, community legal centres,  Justice Connect and the NSW Bar Association has launched the NSW Government’s Disaster Response Legal Service, which will provide free legal assistance to those affected by the tragic bushfires in NSW.

Richard Harvey, the President of the Law Society said: “In this time of great tragedy, we need to do all we can, as members of the NSW community and the legal profession, to assist those impacted by the bushfires who have lost so much.”

The Law Society’s statement also noted that many solicitors in the region may have been affected by the fires, and noted that the Law Society in partnership with Lawcover could assist in:

  • Trust accounting;
  • Professional support for loss of files; and
  • Professional support in costs, ethics and regulatory compliance for any affected legal practice, as well as any wellbeing issues that may arise.

The President’s full statement is available here. Full information about the response efforts is available here.

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An Australian Study on Lawyer Vulnerability & Legal Misconduct

Vulnerability to Legal Misconduct: Qualitative Study of Regulatory Decisions Involving Problem Lawyers and Their Clients

An emerging body of scholarship discusses ‘vulnerability’ as an antecedent of legal misconduct. One conceptualization of vulnerability indicates that an individual has greater susceptibility to risk of harm, and safeguards may protect against that risk of harm. This empirical study adds to the normative research with a qualitative analysis of 72 lawyers with multiple complaints and at least one hearing, paid financial misconduct claim, or striking from the roll (“problem lawyers”) in Victoria, Australia, between 2005 and 2015 through 311 regulatory decisions. We found that problem lawyers were disproportionately likely to be male, over age 45, and work in a sole or small practice. A quarter of these lawyers suffered from health impairments and among the clients harmed, half had cognitive impairments, were older age, or non-native English speakers. These findings underscore the need to better understand vulnerabilities to promote lawyer well-being, protect exposed clients, and reduce lapses in professionalism.

Access Full Report Here

Authors: 

  • Tara Sklar, University of Arizona – James E. Rogers College of Law
  • Jennifer Schulz Moore, University of New South Wales (UNSW) – Faculty of Law
  • Yamna Taouk, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health
  • Marie M Bismark, University of Melbourne
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New Skills for New Lawyers: Responding to Technology and Practice Developments

The legal profession is facing a convergence of forces, most notably significant advances in the capabilities of technology, economic pressures challenging existing business models and globalisation, that herald momentous change to the practice of law. In Australia the lead in seeking to understand these developments and formulate responses has been taken by the Law Society of New South Wales and its report on the Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession (FLIP). The Law Society conducted a commission of inquiry which culminated in the recognition of skills or areas of knowledge that were identified as essential for the successful future practice of law. In short, this involves two main inter-related streams of knowledge: first, the ability to understand and employ technology, and second a collection of skills that result in a “practice-ready” graduate, namely: • Practice Skills (both interpersonal skills and professional skills) • Business Skills • Project Management • Internationalisation and Cross-Border Practice of Law • Inter-disciplinary experience • Resilience While technology is in many ways the ‘headline act’ there are also a range of other skills that are required because of the changes technology is facilitating and the need for lawyers to focus on what is central to their role or truly provides value to the client. This article discusses and elaborates on the findings of the FLIP inquiry in relation to legal education.

Paper Available Here

Michael Legg, University of New South Wales (UNSW) – Faculty of Law

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