By: Richard Hargreaves
Wynn Williams is often instructed in relation to complaints against lawyers.  Here in New Zealand, the lawyers’ Conduct and Client Care Rules provide a framework by which to assess lawyers’ work for their clients. (https://www.legislation.govt.nz/regulation/public/2008/0214/latest/DLM1437806.html?src=qs)

England and Wales have a similar Code of Conduct which their solicitors must meet (https://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/standards-regulations/code-conduct-solicitors/).  Like in New Zealand, there is regulation only once a complaint is made and investigated.

Ongoing Competency Checks

The Legal Services Board (the central ‘oversight’ regulator for lawyers in England/Wales) announced last week that it will implement ongoing competency checks for solicitors (https://www.legalservicesboard.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Findings-report-OC-Feb-2021-Final.pdf).  The proposal acknowledges that law students cannot join the profession without demonstrating their competence through exams and qualification.  However, once practising as lawyers, there is no check of continuing competence.  The report quotes:

‘initial education and training cannot offer a career-long guarantee of competence…

This lack of follow-up, the Board says, is out of step with most other professions, which require proof of competency on an ongoing basis – for example accountants, doctors, surgeons, engineers etc.

The specific details of how competency will be measured are still in the consultation phase.  It will undoubtedly be difficult to make any competency checks meaningful, rather than self-assessment, box-ticking forms.

It is worth noting that neither barristers nor solicitors in England have the requirement for ongoing Continuing Professional Development (CPD) training, although both professions are currently re-assessing whether that should be introduced too.  The NZ Law Society, on the other hand, requires that lawyers here undertake some verified training every year, as a condition of practising.

Will New Zealand follow?

Given the similarities between England’s and New Zealand’s legal systems, this may be a development which is considered in this country.  We don’t see it as an urgent requirement – the NZLS complaints process, coupled with the mandatory CPD training, should provide the mechanisms by which to ensure lawyers’ competence is maintained.
 
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