Mike Heron QC provided the culture review report to the Law Society. Photo/Michael Craig
Last week, the Law Society issued a statement indicating that its board had received the Culture Review report from Mike Heron KC. The complete copy has not been made public. If I had a
dollar for every notice that is not made public, I would be able to repay my student loan.
A bar association spokesman said the council did not intend to disseminate the report widely.
“Those who were interviewed and participated in the review did so in a confidential setting and it would not be appropriate for us to disclose this further.
“Those affected by the report have seen a redacted copy of it, because making sure they have confidence in the process and the outcome is the right thing to do.”
For context, Mike Heron was tasked with leading the review “in the context of a breakdown in the relationship between the President and the Law Society’s then-CEO.”
Rewind to June when General Manager Joanna Simon resigned. Concerns were raised about then-president Jacque Lethbridge, who strongly denied the unspecified allegations.
Lethbridge released a statement to the Herald, saying: “I have participated in and fully support the decision of the full Board to launch a general review of the working culture of the NZLS undertaken by Mike Heron QC, which will respond to all concerns, including those raised directly by me, and I look forward to participating fully.
Last week’s Law Society statement confirmed that something – exactly what, who knows – happened between the two. He also revealed that Lethbridge had resigned as president.
Law Society Vice-President David Campbell said Heron reported that, overall, considering all of the statements and submissions received, Lethbridge behaved in a manner that some employees perceived as aggressive and irrational.
“While Mr. Heron found the president to be truly well-motivated and had no intention of the consequences that occurred, the behavior was inappropriate and described as unreasonable for someone in the office of president.”
In a public statement, Lethbridge said: “I reflect on how my approach and style of communication – which is undoubtedly direct and demanding – has been the experience of some in this environment.”
Regardless of the nature of the “I’m sorry you feel this” statement, it’s amazing to see comments like this made by a lawyer associated with the legal regulatory and representation body.
And then there are Campbell’s comments.
It’s hard not to have a knee-jerk reaction to Campbell’s (as Heron’s proxy) use of “irrational” as a form of stereotyping towards women, despite the seriousness of the undisclosed behavior in question. But maybe I’m clouded by my hysterical feminine temper.
Finally, some substantive and accountability comments, I thought, as my jaw dropped at the realization that I rarely – if ever – a) got lawyers recorded at Bar talks or b) saw comments from lawyers discussing the Law Society in other media.
Even when I do general reporting, I find it difficult to hire lawyers. Maybe it’s their risk aversion, or the fact that New Zealand is a small pond – I’m not sure. This sort of lockdown could also be the result of the profession having to overcome various controversies in recent years.
It could also be the state of journalism, to refer to Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson’s comments regarding the new public media entity.
“The reality is that we want TVNZ to work in tandem with us – and they do – because New Zealand has changed. We no longer trust the national media – we no longer trust what is happening. passes at a national media level,” Jackson told parliament in late September.
He later told RNZ: “I didn’t mean to say… or disparage TVNZ or RNZ, they’re still a trusted medium. But all of our surveys have told us that the public is losing trust in the media.”
Digressions aside, that kind of commentary is what I would like to see from the legal profession. The judiciary is limited – which is understandable given the principles of independence and impartiality.
In defense of the Law Society, it is limited in what it can say in relation to complaints thanks to the Lawyers and Conveyors Act, which may be subject to change.
Meanwhile, the Aotearoa Legal Workers Union is filling that void, where their resounding statements and spokespersons calling on businesses, people, society and the world to change are incredibly refreshing.
I hope the Law Society’s separate review of the Law Society’s regulatory and representational functions means that the Law Society speaks more openly about the processes and issues facing the profession. Imagine if the Bar could even go so far as to question the judiciary or the government?
Fewer barriers result in less carpet gathering dust, in my opinion. It would also mean that more injustices related to the profession, the justice system or society as a whole could be exposed as a result.