LAWFUEL – NZ Legal News & Legal Jobs – A major dispute between the New Zealand Law Society and the COuncil for Legal Education is creating major problems for overseas-qualified lawyers to practice in New Zealand and created a communications crisis at
the top level of the legal profession’s administration.
The organisations’ communication level has reached such a point that a recent NZLS decision has been challenged by the Council for Legal Education, who threatened judicial review proceedings.
Communications between the two organisations, who share the same Wellington office building, have reached the point where they are dealt with at board level. It is understood that the CLE, a statutory body charged with overseeing and providing legal training, are at loggerheads with the NZLS in respect of requirements for requalification of much-needed overseas lawyers, particularly those from the UK.
UK lawyers, admitted to practice by the Law Society of England and Wales, have a choice of routes to practice, including
some who qualify through a combination of degree study and practical experience. Some lawyers, who have 20-plus years’ experience in the UK have been made to jump through the CLE’s requirements before they can practice in New Zealand. These requirements are made notwithstanding that New Zealand lawyers have reciprocity with the UK Law Societies for
practice in that jurisdiction.
A similar set of obstacles has been placed before similarly experienced lawyers from Australia and Canada. The position has angered the lawyers involved, the professional bodies involved and law firms wishing to employ competent, experienced, mid-level lawyers.
The recent crisis has erupted over a case involving an English solicito, Katherine Tomkinson, who the CLE required to sit extensive further law exams, requirements which were considerably reduced by the NZLS’s Admissions and Credentials Committee.
The CLE, a 50 person body headed by Rosemary Gordon and chaired by Mr Justice Tipping, have been angered by the NZLS position although the CLE have previously indicated they would review their requirements. Details of, or even the veracity of the review claim are yet to be substantiated, but sources have told LawFuel that tensions between
the NZLS and CLE have risen to a point where the relationship has all but broken down.
Requalification of solicitors from common law jurisidictions is a significant issue affecting many lawyers and law
firms and it is also seen as something of a “power play” between the CLE and NZLS, with the former attempting to impose its will upon the NZLS despite strong opposition.
Any review by the CLE is not clear to the law profession and the CLE have so far failed to communicate their position with regard to the issue. In the meantime, the hoops through which “foreign” lawyers must jump are creating obstacles for themselves and for healthy relations at the top level of the profession’s administration.