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Bill will enhance legal services market

Bill will enhance legal services market

A new Bill governing the provision of legal services will provide greater choice for consumers while maintaining necessary consumer protections, Justice Minister Phil Goff said today.

"The Lawyers and Conveyancers Bill, which was introduced to Parliament today, reforms the structure of the legal profession and will allow registered and qualified non-lawyer conveyancers to provide conveyancing services, which were previously the exclusive preserve of lawyers," Mr Goff said.

"A new, more effective and independent complaints procedure will also now be available for consumers. While complaints will still be heard in the first instance by Professional Standards Committees for lawyers and conveyancers, with lay representation, an appeal to a new independent body will become available.

"The new Legal Complaints Review Officer will have the power to refer, overturn or substitute the decisions of the Standards Committees. This represents a response to strong concerns about the perceived lack of independence and sometimes inadequate response to complaints under the old system.

"Contingency fee arrangements are also permitted in many cases. Apart from Family Court, criminal and immigration cases, a lawyer and client will be able to agree to payment of the lawyer's fee being conditional on the success of the client's case.

"Safeguards will be built into the system to prevent excessive charging but clients otherwise unable to fund litigation will now have the option of using this mechanism to take their case to court.

"The office of Queen's Counsel will be retained but the title will be changed to Senior Counsel. Those eligible to be appointed to this position will be expanded to include all litigators, not simply those at the separate Bar, and there will be greater transparency in the appointment process.

"Consumer protections, such as fidelity funds, professional indemnity insurance and controls over who may describe themselves as lawyers or law practitioners, are set out in the legislation, as are the fundamental obligations of lawyers and conveyancers and a procedure to determine the professional rules governing them.

"Key areas such as advocacy before any court or tribunal; giving legal advice in areas statutorily reserved for lawyers, and giving legal advice for reward in relation to court or tribunal proceedings will only be able to be done by lawyers with practising certificates.

"Other areas such as drafting of wills and giving general advice are not reserved for lawyers in the Bill as introduced.

"This may produce benefits such as innovation and lower prices through a more open market. It also, however, poses possible risks for consumers when obtaining services from unregulated providers.

"I maintain an open mind as to the extent to which such services should be able to be provided other than by qualified lawyers and will consider carefully arguments presented to the Select Committee on this matter.

"I welcome the positive response by the New Zealand Law Society on the introduction of this bill and I am sure the Select Committee will consider carefully its submissions on the legislation," Mr Goff said.

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