Law Society and Bar Association Push for Regulation of Employment Advocates


Government delays checks on rogue employee advocates for up to five years, creating serious risk for vulnerable workers

The country’s two leading legal professions support the government’s moves to crack down on advocates of unregulated employment.

Like previously reported by Newsroomthe Department for Jobs, Business and Innovation intends to examine the role of employment advocates as part of a review of the industrial dispute resolution system.

A lawyer fulfills a role similar to a lawyer by representing his client, usually an employee, in labor disputes. Unlike lawyers, who must hold a current practicing certificate, lawyers are not required to meet any training or qualification standards. There is also no professional body to complain to and seek redress for misconduct.

This can be problematic, especially when some attorneys perform poorly for their clients, such as when an attorney-represented employee was ordered to pay their employer $10,000 in legal fees.

The New Zealand Bar Association and the New Zealand Law Society both support the regulation of employment advocates.

Bar Association president-elect Maria Dew QC has been pushing the subject forward in discussions with government officials for the past five years.

The New Zealand Bar Association considers this to be a serious problem for consumers, she says. If they receive unprofessional service or unreasonable fees from a lawyer, they have no professional body to complain to.

“We have, over the years, seen these issues also highlighted by judges and members of authority, bringing the matter to public attention as a concern on occasion in their judgments and rulings. ”

“There are some very good advocates who serve the public well, but there remains a need for regulation, just as immigration consultants are now regulated,”
– Maria Dew QC

She says it is particularly important that employees and employers have access to affordable and sound employment advice, especially with the employment issues related to Covid-19 policies arising.

“However, even before and after Covid, employment issues are significant events in the life of an employee or employer, they require skill and care from trained and regulated professionals, including lawyers and lawyers.

“There are some very good advocates who serve the public well, but there remains a need for regulation, just as immigration consultants are now regulated.”

Dew says regulation of lawyers should include a professional code of conduct, a disciplinary regime and a requirement to meet continuing professional development standards to ensure they are competent in the role.

The New Zealand Law Society’s chief executive of professional standards, Katie Rusbatch, said people seeking legal assistance with employment matters should be protected by binding professional obligations for lawyers.

“It is important that those who defend or represent clients have clear guidelines and rules that ensure competent and professional representation for their clients. This will help protect the public and build confidence in our labor dispute resolution systems. »

Rusbatch points to similar codes of conduct and regulations that exist for other similar professions and roles, such as immigration consultants, private security personnel, private investigators and real estate agents.

“The New Zealand Law Society considers safeguards should also be in place for those who seek advice and representation from employment advocates.”

The Newsroom asked Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood what exactly the review would entail, such as reviewing regulations or the licensing of lawyers.

A spokesperson for the minister simply replied in a written statement that “the terms of reference for the review remain to be confirmed”.

The review of the labor dispute system is a medium-term action, to be undertaken within the next two to five years, as part of the Maori Employment Action Plan.

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