New Zealand Law Society consultation on lawyer behaviour rules

The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa is calling for feedback on new draft guidance designed to support the legal profession to comply with new rules governing the behaviour of lawyers.

The amended rules clarify the standards of behaviour expected of lawyers when engaging with clients, colleagues and others, with an emphasis on tackling bullying and harassment. Consultation on the guidance document is open from the 1st of June until the 16th of July. With the new rules coming into place on the 1st July.

The guidance is split into five sections:

  • reporting misconduct and unsatisfactory conduct
  • the clear expectations on law practices to have policies and systems to prevent and protect employees and other people that it engages with from bullying, discrimination, harassment or violence, and a designated lawyer to report to the Law Society about this conduct
  • support for people affected by bullying, discrimination, harassment or violence
  • what to do if you are the subject of a report or complaint
  • terminating instructions in the event of bullying, discrimination, harassment or violence by a client

New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa President Tiana Epati has said “This guidance is intended to be a practical tool to help law practices understand their new obligations under the rules. Bullying, discrimination, racial or sexual harassment and other prohibited behaviour have no place in any profession. Everyone has an individual part to play in securing the well-being of our legal community. We also need to ensure the public can have trust and confidence in the legal profession.”

Read more about the consultation and respond here. 

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Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner welcomes findings of report into sexual harrasment in the court system

The Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner has responded to a new report examining  Sexual Harassment in Victorian Courts. The report was independently produced by Dr Helen Szoke, former Commissioner of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. The final report was released on the 19th of April, and examined measures to prevent sexual harassment, as well as improve reporting and support for those who experience sexual harassment,  and to raise awareness, and ensure accountability across the state’s courts.

The report included recommendations including:

  • the development, promotion and implementation of a sexual harassment policy that covers all staff and contractors
  • an independent review into the court’s recruitment process
  • targeted sexual harassment and discrimination training
  • an annual anonymous survey into harassment in the courts system

The Victorian Legal Services Board has acknowledged the report and its contents; expressing its support for the recommendations.

Victorian Legal Services Board CEO and Commissioner, Fiona McLeay has said: “The report’s 20 recommendations offer a clear roadmap for the courts and VCAT to foster respectful cultures and ensure safe workplaces. Like our 2019 study into sexual harassment in the legal profession, this report found that sexual harassment and the silence surrounding this behavior was perpetuated by power inequalities. We must build a culture where sexual harassment is no longer tolerated and where victim-survivors and bystanders feel safe to speak up. We look forward to working with the government and the courts to implement these changes to make a difference to everyone who works in the legal sector in Victoria”.

Read the full report here, or the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner’s response here.

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New Zealand Law Society released new rules governing lawyer behaviour

The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa will implement new rules on lawyer behaviour, with an emphasis on tackling bullying and harassment, from July the 1st. The amended rules will clarify the standards of behaviour expected of lawyers when engaging with clients and colleagues.

New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa President Tiana Epati said“Bullying, discrimination, racial or sexual harassment and other unacceptable conduct has no place in any profession. Changes to the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008 (RCCC) were part of the recommendations by the Law Society’s Independent Working Group chaired by Dame Silvia Cartwright. Implementing these changes is the most significant regulatory step available to the Law Society to tackle the behaviour highlighted by the Legal Workplace Environment Survey in 2018.”

The amended rules will include clarifications around the definitions of bullying, discrimination, harassment, including racial and sexual harassment, and other unacceptable conduct. As well as these clarifications the rules include new reporting requirements for notifying this conduct to the Law Society to ensure that there is an appropriate regulatory response.

Law practices in New Zealand will be required to have policies in place to protect staff and clients, as well as this they will need to have an investigative process in place for allegations of unacceptable conduct. In addition, each practice will need to designate a lawyer to report annually to the Law Society on any investigations undertaken by their law practice. The emphasis of the new rules is on the responsibility of each lawyer and law practice to deal with and report unacceptable conduct, rather than individual lawyers having to come forward.

Ms Epati has said “Ahead of the final Rules being approved by the Minister of Justice earlier this year, widespread consultation took place with the profession. I’m confident that these changes have the support of the profession. Everyone has an individual part to play so the public can have trust and confidence in the legal profession. While these Rules are one way the Law Society can bring about change, real and long-lasting change will only take place when everyone takes responsibility. That may be showing up to support a colleague, calling out inappropriate behaviour or helping to build a supportive, non-discriminatory environment within your legal workplace.”

Read more about the new rules here, or read the updated rules 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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