Team Overview: NZ Law Society Legal Team

Team Overview: NZ Law Society Legal Team

Mary Ollivier from the New Zealand Law Society shares the challenges of operating a legal function within a professional body...

Can you provide an overview of the legal function at New Zealand Law Society and how it supports the work of the Society?

The Law Society's legal team supports the Law Society's functions as set out in the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006.  This involves assisting lawyers with new and innovative ways of practising to ensure compliance, providing advice on privacy issues, monitoring the offences provision under the Act, practice issues, considering non straightforward applications and any issues arising in the investigation of complaints that may require advice such as the interpretation of any of the rules of conduct and client care.  Managing litigation that has been briefed to external counsel is a large part of the role.    
 
Our roles are busy and interesting with every day bringing up a new issue to resolve.  The challenges of AML/CFT compliance and lawyer wellbeing are some of the biggest issues facing the legal community today and the legal team contributes to work in this area. 
 
A typical day in the life of an NZLS lawyer might include any activity from the list below: 
  
- Meeting with stakeholders; 

- Reviewing and advising on non-straightforward applications for admission or practice; 

- Speaking to lawyers about the interpretation of ethical rules;  

- Drafting correspondence, and opinions for regulatory staff; 

- Preparing court proceedings; 

- Court appearances and provision of evidence; 

- Talking through instructions with external counsel on a Judicial Review File; 

- Assisting the Privacy Officer with difficult requests for personal information; 

- Reviewing certificates of good standing;  

- Responding to inquiries from overseas lawyers about practising in NZ and from NZ lawyers wanting to practise overseas and consulting with overseas regulators; 

- Legal research and drafting; 

- Assisting the Courts and Tribunal with submissions; 

- Assisting the Privacy Officer with difficult requests for personal information; 

- Providing input on law reform submissions on any new legislation or govt consultation documents from an NZLS regulatory perspective; 

- Meeting legal service providers to discuss ways of structuring their services in a way which meets LCA regulatory requirements; 

- Assisting with the creation of systems, processes, manuals; 

- Speaking to members of the public about concerns with a lawyer or a non-lawyer purporting to act as a lawyer 

What are the benefits and challenges of operating a legal function within the professional body that regulates and supports lawyers and how do you engage with stakeholders?

It is an interesting role and being able to assist lawyers to structure their practices to ensure no unintended regulatory issues arise is satisfying.  The challenge is - just that - responding to challenges that lawyers make about processes and to be reassured that natural justice prevails.   Assisting lawyers to practise safely and be compliant does not involve the provision of legal advice to the public or lawyers as that is not the role of the in-house lawyer. 

We recognise that lawyer​s need to be able to practise to earn a living, that their reputation is everything and once lost is very hard to regain. Keeping that in mind we look for a solution that is proportionate and work in a holistic, preventative and supportive way. We strive to find solutions that facilitate change when needed and are non-punitive. ​Our primary focus is maintaining the standards and reputation of the profession, while maintaining our role as protector of the legal consumer.

As with most regulators, the NZLS legal team interacts with many stakeholders.   Some of these include the Ministry of Justice, MBIE and Department of Internal Affairs in relation to legislation and AML/CFT.  We have recently engaged with WorkSafe, Council of Legal Education, the Law Schools, the professional legal training providers, Immigration Advisors Authority, Real Estate Authority, the Courts, the Legal Complaints Review Office, overseas legal regulators, Police, FMA, the Lawyers Disciplinary Tribunal to name just a few.

Your senior regulatory lawyer Charlotte Walker was named the 2019 ILANZ In-House Lawyer of the Year. What was the impact on the team of this recognition?

This provided a wonderful boost for the team - however it came as no surprise that Charlotte won – she is a great member of the team and provides thoughtful and considered advice on a daily basis to the regulatory arms across the Law Society.  It also highlighted that the Law Society has regulatory lawyers and a legal team, something not necessarily widely known within the profession. 

How do you see the role of the modern in-house lawyer evolving?  

The modern in-house lawyer continues to evolve, in our view, into a wider, more encompassing role depending on the organisation.  Providing input across all facets of an organisation can be challenging but worthwhile to the executive.

Are you rolling out or planning to roll out any new technology to support the work of the legal function?  

We are always looking at new ways to enhance our work.  Our recent move from our Waring Taylor Street office has caused all staff to reflect on our systems and technology and working in a paperless environment has been liberating.