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Bill will enhance legal services market

Bill will enhance legal services market

The Lawyers and Conveyancers Bill, which reforms the structure of the legal profession and creates the new occupation of licensed conveyancer, had its first reading in Parliament today.

Justice Minister Phil Goff said the Bill would meet the public's need for an accountable legal profession that offered greater choice without eroding necessary consumer protections.

"Complaints against lawyers and conveyancers will still be heard in the first instance by Professional Standards Committees but appeals will now be possible to an independent Legal Complaints Review Officer with the power to refer, overturn or substitute decisions," Mr Goff said.

"The position was created in response to strong concerns about the perceived lack of independence and sometimes inadequate response to complaints under the old system.

"A Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal will also be established to determine any charges against practitioners and applications for restoration of practising certificates."

Mr Goff said the reforms were generally supported by the New Zealand Law Society, which favoured a more responsive structure to suit the changed nature of the legal services market.

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

"Safeguards will prevent excessive charging but clients otherwise unable to fund litigation will now be able to use this option to take their case to court.

"Only lawyers with practising certificates will be able to provide key services such as advocacy before a 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.

"Other services such as the drafting of wills and giving general advice will not be reserved. This may produce benefits such as innovation and lower prices but it also 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 by people other than qualified lawyers, and will carefully consider arguments presented to the Select Committee," Mr Goff said.

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