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Smith challenges Law Society

Tuesday, 31 August 2004

Smith challenges Law Society

United Future MP Murray Smith says claims by the executive director of the Law Society, in regard to the disposition of 2/3rds of the legal profession’s fidelity fund, that "the profession contributed the money and the profession will decide" are deliberately misleading.

Mr Smith, himself a lawyer, said “What he really means by that comment is that "the profession (i.e. individual practitioners) contributed the money and the profession (i.e. the Law Society as its elected representatives) will decide", and it is this 'we will decide what is going to happen to your money' attitude that is making a lot of lawyers angry.

“If Mr Ritchie was genuine in his comments, then the Law Society would happily agree to my proposed amendment to the Lawyers’ and Conveyancers’ Bill which states that the 2/3rds balance be distributed "in accordance with a referendum to be held among all persons who are current contributors to the fund as at the date of the referendum".

Mr Smith said Mr Ritchie is also disingenuous in suggesting that there might be very little money left to distribute, claiming that on average there are $1.5m in claims a year met.

The Law Society had told the Select Committee, he said, that there were currently only $100,000 or so of claims outstanding and the figure of a $9m surplus in the fund was the best estimate at this time.

Furthermore, Mr Smith said, if Mr Ritchie was right, then there would be no money left to pass to the new fidelity fund either and lawyers would be immediately having to top up that fund with an extraordinary levy.

“That is even more reason not to have 2/3rds of the fund go into the Law Society's own hands.”

Mr Smith said that current responses to his questionnaire, widely distributed among lawyers, showed that 88% of lawyers agreed with the United Future amendment and 84% did not want the money to go to the Law Society. More responses were flooding in by the day.


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