Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Quality of Lawyers

The Attorney-General Chris Finlayson has ruffled some feathers with a recent attack on the poor standards of some lawyers. He said in the article from the Dominion that

“Too many lawyers practising at the bar are incompetent, or worse, and there is no proper means of assessing their competence or requiring them to be properly educated.

"We're breeding a class of barristers who don't even know how to address the court, much less know how to cross-examine, write submissions and act in a professional manner."

He suggested that the courts should have powers to order lawyers to pay costs personally when they waste court time. This power already exists, as may be seen from my previous post. It is rarely used, but the incompetent and intemperate are sometimes ordered to pay client costs themselves. Perhaps in the erudite and sophisticated word of Mr Attorney, he has not seen the sometimes sharp reminders from some of our Associate Judges such as Tomas Kennedy-Grant, who regarded standards as part of the training given to the often junior counsel appearing before him. He reminded them, in a careful and direct fashion, when the standards had slipped, with always great observance of form and courtesy. The bustle of a District Court civil list may also be too far removed from Parliamentary ritual, but I guarantee they are more polite than some exchanges in the bearpit of the Beehive.

The further point he makes about further education, is long overdue. Those of us who go to the trouble of attending seminars have a commitment to keeping up to date. As a practising panel member of the Arbitrators and Mediators Institute I must keep up continuing training points each year. This has been suggested for lawyers too, but we still do not have any requirement to undertake any study after graduation and admission to the bar. Most professions make further training compulsory-lawyers must do so to maintain standards.

As to addressing the court Judge O’Donovan has written a most useful book, now in the 3rd edition, which should be required reading. It can be bought from the Auckland Law Society or CCH (members get a better price.)

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