Shaping the future; 150 years of the New Zealand Law Society

I look at the 150-year anniversary
as a time of reflection, as opposed to a celebration. Because I think
the Law Society, the profession haven’t always been on
the right side of history. Particularly when it comes to tangata whenua,
women in the past. If you ask Ethel Benjamin now, I mean she was
blocked from the law library. She was the first woman lawyer in New Zealand. Sir Apirana Ngata was the first Māori lawyer. All those years ago they did those things,
but they didn’t have the support of the Law Society and the profession, and so,
I think it’s really imporant that we not forget that, and while we can say “yeah, we’ve come a long way,”
we have a long way to go, still. There have been significant numbers of women coming
through law schools for a number of years now, and yet we don’t retain those
women, and they don’t achieve superior management positions,
so that’s an issue. We’re losing younger practitioners
who have done a whole law degree, but don’t find that the career is
for them, for various reasons. Over time we need to be more diverse
and inclusive of all kinds of people. We represent the community, and we
should reflect the community – and we don’t. I’d like to see more Māori and Pacific lawyers. The more diverse our workforce is,
the better, and the better the outcomes will be for us and our
clients and for society. What I would like for our legal community is
just to be really conscious about our health, you know, after all, we’ve all got families, and need
to pay attention to more than just our work. You see, time and time again,
mental health is such a huge issue. I think the whole model of law needs
to be re-evaluated. At the moment I don’t think it’s people-focused enough.
I don’t think it’s focused on the wellbeing of the profession. There needs to be, in my opinion,
more available help and assistance to lawyers to deal with
some of those stresses. I think we need to adapt more in terms
of lifestyle balance. Just treating each other with
love and respect. We need to look at different work models
that allow different parts of our society to work differently. Technology’s
allowing us to do that, To work from home,
to be with our children. The main challenge, and this is probably
something that others will mention as well, is the access to justice. We need a good strong legal system, so that people have access to justice, that the state is
challenged, and that we live in a healthy democracy. Legal aid is a big problem in terms of
access to justice, in my view. Personally, I think maybe finding a way to
structure legal aid in such a way that is fair for those trying to access it, and also
those who are being allocated legal aid clients. My hope generally is that we move away from a
heavy punitive-type system, where we take the focus away from punishing or
denouncing and deterring offending, and particularly at the lower level
to the mid level, looking at how we can change people,
how we can help people, to avoid further offending again. I’d like to see the community armed with
more knowledge about the law. There’s a lot to be said about some form
of legal education for students in schools. I would hope than in one hundred and fifty years time,
everybody will be well-educated enough, to actually understand the legal system themselves. And on top of that, I’d want us to be able to do it all
in Te Reo Māori, so everyone would be fluent. We’ve got a huge increase in technology.
We could be scared of that, or we could think about how it’s
going to aid and develop how we practice, and I think there are some huge opportunities there. The Chinese, Singapore, all these Asian countries – they’re
leading the way with AI and modern technology. What they all agreed was that for
the legal profession to remain relevant, to survive essentially, is that number one,
we all have to learn how to be tech savvy. A lot of those repetitive, low-value tasks will be replaced –
machines can do them faster, cheaper, and more accurately. What can’t be replaced by machines is that human contact.
So, your ability to be show empathy, compassion, be a good communicator, have human evaluative judgment
are going to be what makes you sought after. That’s what I call the business case for compassion,
you know we all say it’s important to be kind, but in actual fact, to remain relevant, that’s going to be it. The next one hundred and fifty years,
it’s hard to visualise that far forward, but, I would like to see the profession remain as
relevant as it always has, and to improve on that. I hope that we find a way to
address the isues within our culture, so that we don’t have
a year like 2018 again. I would like to be a part of change
so that when my children come through, it’s a better version of what it is now. I think it’s really important that
everyone gets behind the change. It really needs to come from everyone, right down
from junior lawyers and those from up top. It’s incumbent on, I think, the older practitioners
to lead by example, to be bold and outspoken where we see that things aren’t right,
and to make change, and I think that’s really incumbent on the older males
in the profession, to lead by example. Generational change needs to occur,
so I hope in a hundred and fifty years we can look back and say today
was the beginning of that journey to create a culture that is diverse,
that is inclusive, that people enjoy going to work,
have the intellectual stimulation, and enjoy the work that they do,
so that’s my hope for the profession over the next hundred and fifty years. You know, I believe that we can change,
for the better. I firmly believe that; I wouldn’t be President
if I didn’t believe that; that we can be more inclusive
and therefore more diverse; that equity will be the touchstone; that
we can deliver access to justice for all. Because we have to – because if we don’t, then we
aren’t fulfilling the very purpose for which we do this, which is to be just. To be just and fear not.
It’s the motto. So we can do that.

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