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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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:
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.
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.
The legalprofession 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.
In an international benchmarking exercise, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in England and Wales finds that almost 80% of the jurisdictions surveyed have a common assessment as part of lawyer qualification.
In Australia, amendments to the Legal Profession Act require that incorporated legal practices (ILPs) implement ‘appropriate management systems’ to assure compliance with the Legal Profession Act 2004, and appoint a legal practitioner director to be responsible for the management of the ILP.
The new law did not define ‘appropriate management systems’ (AMS) so the Office of Legal Services Commissioner for New South Wales worked with representatives of other organizations and practitioners to develop guidelines and an approach for evaluating compliance. This involved the designated director completing a self-assessment process (SAP), evaluating the ILP’s compliance with ten specific objectives of sound legal practice.
To evaluate the new regulatory regime, Professor Susan Fortney conducted a mixed method empirical study of incorporated law firms in New South Wales Australia. In Phase One of the study, all incorporated law firms with two or more solicitors were surveyed. In Phase Two, legal services directors were interested. This article discusses the survey findings, focusing on the relationship between the self-assessment process and the ethics norms, systems, conduct, and culture in firms.
Fortney, Susan Saab and Gordon, Tahlia Ruth, Adopting Law Firm Management Systems to Survive and Thrive: A Study of the Australian Approach to Management-Based Regulation (January 22, 2013). St. Thomas Law Review, Forthcoming; Hofstra Univ. Legal Studies Research Paper No. 13-02. Read the article at SSRN
The Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) was the first jurisdiction to fully deregulate law firm structure and allow alternative business structures. At the same time it required that incorporated legal practices implement ‘appropriate management systems’ for ensuring compliance with professional ethical obligations.
This paper presents a preliminary empirical evaluation of the impact of this attempt at ‘management-based regulation’. We find that the NSW requirement that firms self-assess their ethics management leads to a large and statistically significant drop in complaints. The (self-assessed) level of implementation of ethics management infrastructure, however, does not make any difference. The relevance of these findings to debates about deprofessionalization, managerialism, and commercialism in the legal profession is discussed, and the NSW approach is distinguished from the more heavy-handed English legal aid approach to regulating law firm quality management.
Parker, Christine and Gordon, Tahlia Ruth and Mark, Steve A., Regulating Law Firm Ethics Management: An Empirical Assessment of an Innovation in Regulation of the Legal Profession in New South Wales. Journal of Law and Society, Vol. 37, Issue 3, pp. 466-500, September 2010. Read article on SSRN.