“A lawyer who left the profession after suffering years of inappropriate sexual behaviour from male colleagues is appalled at what she calls ‘inaction’ by the Law Society in the wake of the Russell McVeagh scandal.”
We’re appalled too, but not surprised. The Law Society is (or at least thinks it is) there to protect lawyers, not hold them accountable.
Many people have had the experience of being vastly overcharged or otherwise ripped off by lawyers — and that’s what the Lawyers Complaints Service is there for.
But what if you’re not a client? There was another publicized case last year where an Auckland lawyer made representations to a financial institution on behalf of a client that were completely fraudulent. He should have been struck off, you think, but he wasn’t.
The Law Society’s attitude is that lawyers only have an obligation to tell the truth to paying clients, and not to third parties: with these, lawyers are at liberty to tell whatever lies they like. That was the effective response to a formal complaint we made last year about a certain partner in Simpson Grierson, an Auckland firm which every year charges the Kapiti Coast District Council hundreds of thousands of dollars for highly questionable advice.
Totally unsatisfactory? Of course.
The Act which governs their behaviour is the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006, in which sections 7 through 14 deal with ‘misconduct’ and ‘unsatisfactory conduct’. An extract from section 7:
In this Act, misconduct, in relation to a lawyer or an incorporated law firm,
means conduct of the lawyer or incorporated law firm that occurs at a time when he or she or it is providing regulated services and is conduct—
that would reasonably be regarded by lawyers of good standing as disgraceful or dishonourable; or
that consists of a wilful or reckless contravention of any provision of this Act or of any regulations or practice rules made under this Act that apply to the lawyer or incorporated law firm or of any other Act relating to the provision of regulated services; or
that consists of a wilful or reckless failure on the part of the lawyer, or, in the case of an incorporated law firm, on the part of a lawyer who is actively involved in the provision by the incorporated law firm of regulated services, to comply with a condition or restriction to which a practising certificate held by the lawyer, or the lawyer so actively involved, is subject; or
that consists of the charging of grossly excessive costs for legal work carried out by the lawyer or incorporated law firm; and
Telling blatant lies, including lying by omission, isn’t disgraceful or dishonourable? Not to anyone other than a client, says the Law Society.
The Law Society also makes an express expectation that lawyers will conduct themselves with third parties with integrity and show respect. For the Law Society, respect means being polite and not making insults, ranting, throwing temper tantrums, indulging in verbal or physical harassment, etc. It does not mean being honest; nor does ‘integrity’ mean honesty.
In the 2008 Regulations made under the Act, section 11 states:
Quality of complaints service
(1) The Society must, in administering the complaints service, take all reasonable steps to ensure that the complaints service—
(a) deals with complaints in a fair, efficient, and effective manner; and
(b) achieves consistency and quality of service throughout New Zealand.
It’s highly debatable that the Law Society complies with this.
If you think a complaint to the Law Society has been given a casual fob-off, you can appeal to the Legal Complaints Review Officer. The problem there though, is that while the LCRO is administered by the Justice Dept, its funding again comes from lawyers. The LCRO record has mostly been one of rubber-stamping the Law Society’s Standards Committee decisions.
All the above — and a lot more — are part of a detailed submission being made by us to the Minster of Justice about much-needed changes to the above Act.