Amid the madness last week was a huge week for the legal profession with the release of the legal union's employment information report, and the Law Society's results to proposed changes to its complaints process.
First up, the Aotearoa Legal Workers' Union's Employment Information Report.
Employers have historically kept salary, benefits, and workplace conditions under lock and key, co-presidents Tess Upperton and Isabella Lenihan-Ikin said.
"Opacity about pay and conditions works in the employer's favour; it allows one party to be in possession of significantly more information than the other and able to negotiate more powerfully for their position.
"Secrecy simultaneously negatively impacts legal workers, who are unable to gain an accurate understanding of employers' financial positions and whether their remuneration reflects fair value for their work."
Money and overtime
The report was sent to each of the union's 253 members in 2021. Salaries were largely stagnant or falling on average in the public sector, where the Public Sector Pay Guidance 2021 has resulted in remuneration continuing to be effectively frozen at 2020 levels.
Overall, salaries for law clerks increased significantly from 2020, with average increases of 16 per cent for those at large law firms. Both medium and small law firms followed suit, with 23 per cent and 15 per cent increases respectively. Clerk salaries ranged from $53,402 at the Ministry of Justice, to $64,946.61 at Crown Law.
Few workplaces had effective policies on Time Off In Lieu, overtime, and bonuses, where only three per cent of respondents had ever received overtime pay, and 27.6 per cent reported their workplace had a Time Off In Lieu policy in place.
Mental health and gender
A stark 74 per cent of respondents said their mental health had suffered as a result of their work. Respondents identified a range of causes from stress, anxiety, unmanageable workloads, subject matter of the work, poor or no supervision, and feeling undervalued.
In the private sector 100 per cent of in-house lawyers said their mental health had suffered compared to 63 per cent of lawyers in the public sector. A range of 82-89 per cent of lawyers' mental health had suffered as a result of work at Bell Gully, Buddle Findlay, Dentons Kensington Swan, Duncan Cotterill, MinterEllisonRuddWatts, and Simpson Grierson. Sixty-seven per cent of lawyers cited mental health issues at Meredith Connell, and 63 per cent of people said the same from Chapman Tripp.
According to the survey, there's been minimal change in the percentage of female partners in New Zealand, which seems particularly poignant seeing as International Women's Day was also last week.
At the time of publication 44 per cent of the partnership was made up of women at Meredith Connell, this was followed by 40 per cent at Dentons Kensington Swan, 36 per cent at MinterEllisonRuddWatts, 35 per cent at Simpson Grierson, 34 per cent at Chapman Tripp, and 32 per cent at Bell Gully.
A total of 30 per cent of the partnership was made up of women at Buddle Findlay and Russell McVeagh, followed by Duncan Cotterill at 28 per cent, and 21 per cent at Anthony Harper.
Surveys surveys surveys ahoy
The Law Society also released its survey results around proposed changes to the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006, with the ultimate purpose of providing the Ministry of Justice and Justice Minister Kris Faafoi with the findings.
Key amendments to the Act would be made in a bid to maintain public confidence in the complaints process. Currently, the Law Society can't confirm or deny whether a complaint is being investigated under the Act, which means even those privy to the investigation may be left out of the loop.
Resourcing would change, too, where a triage system would streamline certain types of complaints where no further action is required, ultimately freeing up time for staff to fast-track complaints.
These changes would complement the new Rules of Conduct and Client Care, which came into force on 1 July 2021 to address bullying, harassment and discrimination in the legal profession.
Results of the survey
Back to the survey: consultation ran from January 28 to February 13 and garnered 740 responses and nine written submissions.
Almost 60 per cent of respondents were in favour of making the complaints process more transparent, which would see amending section 188 to allow the Lawyers Complaints Service and a Standards Committee to disclose procedural information about the status of a complaint or own-motion investigation.
Around 90 per cent of respondents agreed with the ability to triage complaints. Currently, around 82 per cent of complaints lead to no further action.
The 30 per cent of respondents that were opposed to the transparency amendment could be categorised into three groups, Law Society president Tiana Epati told me.
"Some were mistaken about the extent of the information that would be disclosed, that people would be named and shamed from the word go, which isn't the case. Some weren't opposed but ticked the box to stress the importance of protecting natural justice. And the others included individual submitters as opposed to groups. I'm pretty confident the 30 per cent will diminish."
Transparency in practice
Currently complaints can lead to an "own motion" investigation, which means victims aren't involved. This may be a good thing in some ways, but it means they're not kept abreast of what's happening, or whether there are multiple complaints, Epati said.
"People who have brought these matters to light have felt abandoned and alone as a consequence. For me, that's not good enough. We need internal transparency that's far more meaningful."
For complaints of high public interest - Russell McVeagh or Morrison Kent for example - the Law Society would be able to confirm or deny that complaints have been made under the changes.
"We would remind the media of the principle of natural justice and to keep an open mind. But where it stands it's frustrating for the media and the Law Society as we're confined by the legislation."
The proposed amendments to the Act will run in parallel to the work of the Independent Review of the statutory framework for legal services, which is made up of Professor Ron Paterson as chair, and Jane Meares and Professor Jacinta Ruru.
The panel may propose more significant legislation reform, but this is at least five years away, hence the need for legislative reform now, Epati said.
"Everything's on the table. We're not afraid for the light to shine in on us."