The recently elected president of the New Zealand Law Society, Jacque Lethbridge, has resigned from the role following the \”culture review\” report commissioned by the NZLS from Michael Heron KC.
The report, released this week, related to what the NZLS said was the “breakdown in the relationship between the President and the then Chief Executive of the Law Society.”
She stood down from her role in August.
The Chief Executive, Joanna Simon, resigned from the Law Society a year into her own appointment to the role and has recently announced she has taken a new job.
The Heron report indicated that Lethbridge had behaved in a manner that was seen by some employees \”as aggressive and irrational\”.
He also found that she was genuinely well motivated and did not intend the consequences that occurred, but that her behaviour was inappropriate and unreasonable for a person in her position.
Jacque Lethbridge has released her own statement saying she supported the culture report commissioned by the NZLS after what she said had been a “challenging time”.
“I am reflecting on how my approach and communication style – which is without doubt direct and exacting – has been the experience of some in that environment.”
She also notes that she is pleased the Law Society\’s workplace issues are being addressed, saying in her statement: \”I am heartened to see from the Board’s statement that it has undertaken to address significant cultural issues within NZLS which surfaced in a staff engagement survey conducted in April 2022, as recommended by Mr Heron KC.”
A partner at Martelli McKegg Jacque Lethbridge has a reputation as an effective litigator, her firm bio describing her as a lawyer with a “robust, focused, dynamic and effective advocacy and legal representation” style.
She has handled some high profile files and will doubtless continue to do so in her ‘forthright’ style. The question that remains to be answered however is how the Law Society will now adjust to appointing a new interim president, but also adopt a more forthright and open style as befits an organisation representing 15,000 intelligent and expressive members.
To date, the issue has elements of a debacle about it that also highlight the obvious confusion between the roles of president and CEO, a matter that the Heron report raised with a requirement to have an effective job description for the president.
Meanwhile, the somewhat rudderless NZLS has appointed former Buddle Findlay and Commerce Commission regulatory lawyer Katie Rusbatch (right) as interim CEO.
All in all, a messy look for a profession that is trying to keep its house in order following the travails of Russell McVeagh et al, with new rules to tackle a culture of bullying and harassment in the profession, but where things have also been amiss on the home front.
As we pointed out in August, the Society may consider that it owes a duty of the much-vaunted ‘openess and transparency’ to its own members, just as it requires the same from them.
To date, the mess in Wellington has been some resignations, shuffling of chairs and a KC\’s report. Hopefully it might also have them review their own procedures with a greater sense of openness and clarity.