Access to Civil Justice - With Dr Bridgette Toy-Cronin
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**Chris Patterson 00:06**
Hello and welcome to the Law Down Under podcast with barrister Chris Patterson. We will give you insights into the law in New Zealand and Australia, its application, and the law's future. Each episode features a new guest who will inspire interest in the law and give you a greater understanding of the legal issues that helped shape our justice system here down under. We thank you for tuning in and enjoy the podcast. I am super excited about Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin joining me on the podcast today. She is a senior lecturer at Otago University, where she teaches undergraduate programs and the legal systems, as well as a paper on lawyers' clients and the profession. She currently researches issues pertaining to litigants and disputants, dispute resolution design, and socio-legal methods for civil justice research. Bridgette holds a Bachelor of Arts degree, a Bachelor of Laws degree with honors from the University of Auckland, a Master of Laws degree from Harvard University, and she also has a doctorate, a PhD, from the University of Otago. She served as a judge's clerk in the Wellington High Court, a legal adviser for the Cambodian Defenders Project on women's rights. She's practiced commercial litigation both in Australia and New Zealand. Bridget is the director of the Civil Justice Center and co-director of the Otago Center for Law and Society. Finally, Bridget has had several of her studies and research papers published, and more recently, some of them have been referred to by the New Zealand Rules Committee. That's the Courts Rules Committee report titled "Improving Access to Civil Justice" that was just released a few weeks ago. Hey, Kia ora. Good morning, Bridgette. How are you?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 01:41**
Chris, I'm great. Thank you. Thanks for having me on.
**Chris Patterson 01:44**
Thank you for joining me. I've, as I said in the intro, I'm so excited about having you on board here because you really truly are one of Australasia's leading minds on the issue of access to justice and the issues that surround what is becoming and has been for some time quite a serious problem for both New Zealand and Australia. But I know your focus has been very much on New Zealand. So look, first of all, what I want to ask you about, as you know, how do you define access to justice? Why is it important?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 02:21**
Well, it's a big first question.
**Chris Patterson 02:24**
The big ones first.
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 02:27**
I mean, there are a lot of definitions of access to justice. And I try and focus on thinking about people's access to a decision or some sort of resolution. It doesn't have to be an adjudicative decision, of course, to their resolution to their justice problem that is in line with the substantive norms of our society. So, you know, it's legal, and fair procedure of some description has been used to get there. So it's people's access to that process, which is what I think about when I'm doing my work.
**Chris Patterson 03:06**
That's quite a multi-layered response. I mean, I thoroughly agree with you. But I think it'd be helpful if we unpack it. The first assures us in any civilized society, it is inevitable that there are going to be members in that society that aren't going to see eye to eye with each other on issues. Hence, they may go into a dispute; they may become disputants. So where does justice fit into that scenario where you have, and they don't need to be two people, they could be two international corporations who don't see eye to eye here in New Zealand, or they could be two neighbors who live literally don't see eye to eye over the size or the makeup of the fence? Where does that fit into our system of an organized society?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 04:08**
Well, I mean, you're quite right, I totally agree that conflict is inevitable. And the challenge for society is to make sure that people have got ways to work that out. Most people will work it out through a simple negotiation between themselves. If neighbors are disputing, they'll often just work it out over the fence.
**Chris Patterson 04:28**
So, hence the issue of resolution. So, disputes resulting in resolution.
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 04:35**
Yeah, some kind of resolution that people are not. I mean, one of some of the resolutions, which are less in line with justice or fairness, is where one person has to walk away from the situation or break the relationship to get out of it. So, for example, a landlord and tenant, where the only way to sort of resolve the problem is for the tenant to leave the tenancy. And, you know, even though perhaps the legal rights are on the side of the tenant, or an employee leaving a job where there's been conflict, and they haven't been able to resolve it. So when people are taking those kinds of actions, I think we've got to think there's sometimes a problem that needs to be resolved there. And we need to have mechanisms to allow people to air those disputes and to have a fair resolution to them. But that resolution can take lots of different forms, and the mechanism to do it. One of the problems with access to justice, certainly as it was maybe, say, 20 years ago, was there was a lot focused on lawyers and judges and courts. And it's definitely moved away from that. I think when you speak to most people about access to justice now, they think of it in a much broader way than that. And they think about how people can find resolutions to their problems, regardless of the nature of the dispute and the level at which they might need help.
**Chris Patterson 06:02**
Okay, and also just for listeners, I'm sure they'll have gathered very much the focus of your research, and in this podcast, is on civil disputes and civil justice. We're not really going to touch on the area of the criminal justice system.
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 06:21**
I'm very much focused on civil justice. So, when I'm thinking about access to justice in this conversation, I'm definitely thinking about civil justice.
**Chris Patterson 06:28**
Okay. Now, can we talk now, just in terms of we've talked about disputes? Where does the system of justice engage? Because you've mentioned before rightly, in essence, two possible outcomes to the resolution of a dispute, you've talked about one by agreement, two neighbors sort out an issue over the fence by agreement, they don't need to get anyone else involved. The second of the three ways that disputes are resolved, as you've mentioned, people just walking away, and you gave the example of a tenant who might have a claim against the landlord, or just simply goes, "Look, that's not worth pursuing. I'm just going to walk away from this claim." That, in itself, is potentially a resolution. Now there's a third way, which is where the system of justice might engage. How does it work here in New Zealand?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 07:28**
So the system of justice can engage in lots of ways, and some of it can be by providing information to people so that they know what their legal rights are, which empowers them to then find a just resolution by negotiation. So, at that level, it can be quite a kind of minor provision of legal information, which would be enough, or it can be a more formal resolution. So, with a landlord-tenant example, we have the Tenancy Tribunal in New Zealand, which its first step for almost all disputes is telephone mediation, followed by, if that's unsuccessful, a tribunal adjudicated hearing. So there's a bunch of different mechanisms sitting in there that are all provided by the justice system and supported by non-government entities in the provision of legal information.
**Chris Patterson 08:21**
Now, can I ask you these questions when asking now about why dispute resolution and access to justice is important? But can we start off at the individual level? And that is, in your experience with your research, what would you say that an effective system of dispute resolution and access to justice is important at an individual level?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 08:49**
Well, at an individual level, there's plenty of evidence to show that unresolved disputes have serious consequences for people's well-being. It can be their economic well-being. For example, if you have an unresolved tenancy claim, if we're going to keep using that as the example to keep things clear, having to walk away from a tenancy to resolve that problem creates a lot of cost for the tenant and some costs for the landlord as well, but a lot of cost for the tenant in the form of having to move their property, you know, the costs involved with it and securing a new property. So, there's that kind of cost. That, of course, also comes with a lot of stress, and it can have spillover and create a lot of other civil justice problems. Other researchers have shown how you have an accumulation of civil justice problems often. So, people have an employment problem, they lose their job, they can't pay the rent, so they lose the tenancy, that creates a family problem. There might be a care of children issue, and you have this kind of spiraling effect from civil justice problems. So, at that level, having unresolved problems is a big problem for well-being. And I guess it can also create a sense of unfairness for that person or exclusion from society as they feel their rights are not being upheld. And that can be a bad thing for people's connection to the community and for feeling like they're valued members of society. So, there's a lot of personal effects from having unresolved civil justice issues.
**Chris Patterson 10:26**
Well, look, you're absolutely right. If I might jump in, that's sort of my experience as a practitioner, as a dispute resolution litigation lawyer doing this for over a quarter of a century now. I like to think that I'm actually pretty good at what I do and helping people get through disputes. And I've been told by others that I'm okay at what I do or even, you know, pretty good. But look, I've never had a client ever say to me, and maybe I'll ask you, whether you've come across anyone who's ever indicated to you that they enjoyed the process of resolving a dispute, and they're looking forward to being in the next dispute. And, in my experience, it's the complete opposite. Often, people will say to me that, you know, perhaps next to the loss of a dead loved one, it was actually one of the more traumatic experiences in their life. And actually, it actually changed them, sometimes not necessarily in a good way. So, it has that been your experience in your research when talking to people who've been in disputes, that the process itself of reaching a resolution can be traumatic?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 11:42**
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, yeah, I've never had anyone say, you know, that was fantastic. Let's do it again, in a litigation sense. And certainly, my PhD research was on litigants in person, and I was closely following around basically 10 litigants in person and talking to others. And that experience for them was a major life event, a big stressful event in their lives. And that has also been my experience with clients when I was practicing as a litigator. It's very unpleasant, it's very stressful. I guess the thing to remember, as we discussed at the outset, is that some level of conflict can happen. And conflict, in itself, is stressful. So we need dispute resolution processes that don't increase that stress. But there's also a certain level of, I guess, acceptance, that conflict will arise. So it's about designing systems that don't make that worse and try to create a resolution quickly and inexpensively so that financial stress doesn't impede as well, all those kinds of things. But we're not necessarily always going to be able to avoid conflict. We can't minimize it, but we can't cut it out completely.
**Chris Patterson 13:02**
Yeah. So look, you're absolutely right. And, if I might jump in, was sort of my experience as a practitioner, as a dispute resolution litigation lawyer doing this for over a quarter of a century now. I mean, I like to think that I'm actually pretty good at what I do and helping people get through disputes. And I've been told by others that I'm okay at what I do or even, you know, pretty good. But look, I've never had a client ever say to me, and maybe I'll ask you, whether you've come across anyone who's ever indicated to you that they enjoyed the process of resolving a dispute, and they're looking forward to being in the next dispute. And fate, in my experience, it's the complete opposite. Often people will say to me that, you know, perhaps, next to the loss of a dead loved one, it was actually one of the more traumatic experiences in their life. And actually, she actually changed them. Sometimes not necessarily in a good way. So, it has that been your experience in your research when talking to people who've been in disputes, that the process itself of reaching a resolution can be traumatic?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 14:21**
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, our legal system is very much focused on individual liability, and having the named plaintiff and the named defendant. But that does tend to mask the fact that there are a lot more people usually involved in every dispute. I mean, if you return again to tenancy, there'll be other people living in that house who are not the named tenant. They'll all be involved. If that family then needs to move, it's going to impact potentially on, you know, who's going to remain, who's staying, and that kind of thing. There are lots of spillovers in the sense of the economics of a dispute. Other people who are abroad, and regardless really of the nature of it, that's pretty true of most disputes.
**Chris Patterson 14:21**
I mean, do you think it might be fair to be able to draw an analogy between someone who's got a dispute and the effect on them versus perhaps a medical situation, like a broken leg where they can't get back to work, and the obligation on both the legal profession and the system of justice to assist people to get their lives back or get them back to where they need to be to be able to get on and function, and prove their well-being?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 15:01**
There's a good analogy there, and it's kind of interesting because the OECD has recently been promulgating this idea of what they're calling a "people-centered justice" as a way to rethink access to justice to bring the focus back onto the people who are affected. They've done that by analogy to the medical profession, who have a much longer and stronger history than the legal profession in thinking through these issues. We're probably all familiar with the idea of patient-centered treatment or patient care. And that involves families and thinking about the person as a whole person and thinking about what they need rather than thinking about them as a medical problem. I think that the legal profession has a ways to go before we can recenter how we think about cases, how we teach law as well to think about the people who are at the center of a dispute and really beginning with what they need and the people they're connected to. So not thinking about them just as an individual. And I would add that the movement towards tikanga Maori in the New Zealand legal system helps this because of course, the Maori view of people is thinking of them as connected to communities, not as individuals. So I have some optimism that will help us as a profession refocus how we think about people who are caught up in disputes.
**Chris Patterson 16:33**
Okay, it looks like there might be something we might dive into a little bit later. And this episode, the reason why I say that is I'm very interested in the work of the Legal Design Lab coming out of Stanford University in the United States, who very much are advocating a human-centered focus to designing legal systems so that it doesn't become this artificiality that we have under our current system, which almost cuts the people, like the actual parties, to a degree out of the equation in terms of how resolutions are reached. But let's come back to that later. I now want to know, I don't know whether it's drilling up or drilling down, we talked about the impact of disputes on individuals, in terms of the impact of unresolved disputes on a society at a wider level, let's just say here in New Zealand. What are the issues that flow out of that? You know, how, why is it that we need a legal system here in New Zealand beyond helping individuals resolve disputes?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 17:42**
Yeah, well, so the main argument goes that if you can't offer people dispute resolution, and you don't have a formal mechanism to make sure that disputes are resolved in line with your law, then you don't have rule of law because one of the essential elements of the rule of law is that you don't have law just written on a piece of paper, you have to be able to enforce and action that law.
**Chris Patterson 18:04**
Okay. And we are really talking about the alternative to not having an effective system of justice, aren't we? In what sense? Well, for example, when people take self-help remedies, and that is that they go, "Alright, look, I've been wronged, and I'm owed some money, let's just say I'm owed $10,000. I've been to my Community Law Center, I've spoken to a lawyer, I've just spoken to my cousin about the cost and what's involved, not just cost but the process of trying to get that money. It's just better that I go down the road and talk to my local gang member and say, 'Hey, can you go and get this money for me?' and leave it to them?" I mean, that's an example of the alternative, isn't it?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 18:53**
Well, yeah, that's always the fear or the rub side of not having the rule of law is that you have the rule of the jungle and that you have that kind of vigilante justice. I guess the more common effect is that people walk away from things, and that has its own problems that come with it, even if you don't go as far as that kind of vigilante style of justice, but you're certainly that's why we have, as a founding principle, the rule of law.
**Chris Patterson 19:21**
Exactly, moving away from the role of the mob and also just the role of the powerful. So, look, I'm certainly keen to get into an episode on the rule of law itself. I've reached out to the honorable Christopher Finlayson, understanding he might be writing a book on the topic. So hopefully, we can get him to join us and tell us about the rule of law. Now, let's dive a little bit deeper. So, we've talked a bit about why access to justice is important and why it exists, etc. What are the obstacles? I know this is a really open question, and maybe we'll break down part of your answer. What do you see as the obstacles to access to justice in New Zealand at the moment?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 20:18**
So, there's been a fair amount of research into what's often referred to as the barriers to access to justice, and they break down normally in the form of cost, as money is always important. If you have to pay a major fee, it's usually in the form of a lawyer. If you need legal assistance, either representation or advice, it is very expensive. There's also opportunity costs in terms of lost productivity and focus on the rest of your life. If you're pursuing litigation, as I'm sure you know from your clients, that can become very all-consuming and means that other opportunities are missed out on. For businesses, that can be very important as well because it takes the focus off running the business. So, there's those sorts of things. There's quite a lot of research to suggest that psychological stress and fear of engaging with formal dispute resolution systems stop people as well. It's quite a big step to go and actually sue someone, even in informal forums like our Disputes Tribunal. Our Disputes Tribunal is still housed within, for example, in Hamilton, it's inside the High Court. So it doesn't feel very informal; it feels pretty intimidating. That, you know, suing someone is a big piece of damage to our relationship. Often disputes are with people who you are going to have to have an ongoing relationship with because it's your neighbor or it's your ex-partner who you have children with or someone within your social circle. So that can be a big problem for people engaging in that. There's also, I mean, this is a bigger problem in Australia, but it's still present in New Zealand,
as geographical barriers. People may not be able to access it; you know, it's just too difficult to travel. As I'm sure you'll know, even, you know, people will try to park outside the courthouse or travel to a location; these are all things which might need childcare for, might need money to be able to pay for parking, and it can just be too much hassle. And then, I guess, at the, you know, if you think about it, rather than just in terms of areas and think about it in terms of, you know, the people-centered justice or, you know, flip it around and think about what do people want from dispute resolution. It might be that they don't want someone to adjudicate, or they might want someone to adjudicate, but our court system has all these kinds of steps before you get there. So it might not be kind of delivering what they're expecting from it, and all those things can play a different mix for each person. To fill in like the formal legal system, even if it's informal, is not something they want to be involved with.
**Chris Patterson 23:17**
Yeah. Okay. Well, let's break some of this down. We'll come to financial at the end. Let's deal first of all with geographical. Okay. And look, you're absolutely right. I mean, you live in Hamilton. Hamilton's infrastructure hasn't collapsed fully yet; Auckland's collapsed a long time ago. Literally. If I've got a court appearance on the North Shore at 10 o'clock, I am literally thinking about planning departure at about eight o'clock in the morning to travel what should theoretically only be about a 15-minute drive, simply because the infrastructure and Auckland's as reflective of your point about Australia is well-made; some people have to travel great distances. But one of the benefits, if there has been a foot out of the pandemic, has been the legal profession's discovery that we have enabling legislation such as the Courts Remote Participation Act that's been in place for 12 years now and that the technology has been around even longer since that piece of legislation where you can do online appearances. Do I know that you're one of the co-authors of a paper that's looked at the use of online courts? What were some of your findings and experiences out of that?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 24:54**
Yeah, I mean, I think that online technology and remote technology has great potential to deliver justice for people. I guess I'm more of a fan of it in the procedural steps. I still think that there is a place for bringing people together to actually sort out substantive disputes. But I couldn't agree more that we waste a heck of a lot of time turning up for short appearances, particularly for minor offenses, it can often lead some people to say, "Look, it's just easy for me to plead guilty. I didn't do it, but the process is far more punishing than what the outcome will be."
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 26:26**
You're preaching to the converted after this podcast episode; I've just gone off to the High Court to file a criminal appeal, and they just won't accept it electronically. They literally just got to hand over the document across the counter. And yeah, you're right.
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 26:43**
I mean, that's crazy in 2022, in the courts. No, it's crazy. We all know it's crazy, but moving the machine, it's a big machine. It's pretty difficult to do. As you know, the courts have recently released a paper talking about their digital strategy and trying to get this moving. We're pretty late to the party. But you know, once we're in the party, New Zealand can tend to move quite quickly. I think there's been some big IT projects that went off the rails in the past, and there's fear about that happening again. But I think we've got to the point now where we've got no choice but to join some of the international trends and move to a more overall digital strategy for our courts. I think that will be really beneficial for saving people like your time, like walking up to the courts, just insane, and handing over documents that cost clients. And it's really something we can't defend.
**Chris Patterson 27:39**
And it also has a place for the clients themselves. One of the big costs, not just financial but just in terms of emotional and distraction. Is, is having to, to appear. Now I know in the civil jurisdiction, not so much so but certainly in criminal just set constant appearances, particularly for minor offenses, it can often lead some people to go look, it's just easy for me to plead guilty. You know, I didn't do it. But the process is far more punishing than what the outcome will be.
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 28:41**
Yes, yes. I mean, I think that that's what the courts are proposing is to buy a system that has already been tried and tested somewhere else. And that has the advantage of coming slightly later to the party. But of course, you still then have to adapt it for your own requirements. I think the time plans that were proposed in the draft digital strategy are probably fairly unrealistic at the moment. I think it's going to take longer than we expect, even if you buy something off the shelf and adapt it for your needs, but it takes time. We know that from having done IT projects in the past. I mean, the big international model that's held out as the gold standard is the British Columbia Dispute Resolution Tribunal. That's a great model because it was designed from the ground up. It started small, but bigger, and they've expanded out and they've used the best and they've used all those methods, like you were referring to the Stanford Design Lab. You know, that's very much in that mode of design. I don't think that's what's proposed in New Zealand for this. This is really about getting away from running CMAs, our mainframe system, and it needs to be replicated in a more modern system, which is a different kind of project than building a tribunal from the ground up. But that's certainly a model that we could look towards in a different kind of project. And it has a lot of lessons to offer us and could be potentially trialed in our Disputes Tribunal. But that's a slightly different thing from getting our High Court and our District Court into a more online streamlined process.
**Chris Patterson 30:28**
Okay. Maybe I could just, it doesn't need to be super complicated. And I mean, I'll give you maybe just a little example, just an experience that I had last year. I was involved with counsel on a six-week ICAC hearing prosecution where there was six counsel, at times there's a bit more. There were over 50 witnesses, and it took place for the first six weeks. Now the whole hearing was conducted remotely, the only person in the courtroom was the judge. There wasn't anyone else in the courtroom, everyone else attended using two platforms, one via Zoom. I mean, your listeners can't see, but we are participating via Zoom. And I think most people listening have had the experience of using Zoom. And that was a platform for the audiovisuals, for documentation. And there was a lot of documentation. It was just a different platform called Blue Jeans. Some people might be familiar with it; it's like Microsoft Teams and Zoom, a similar concept. In that trial for six weeks went absolutely smoothly, just went through each witness, came on, they came off, moved on, etc. Any procedural matters were dealt with by counsel sort of in a virtual set of chambers, etc. So, you know, that is an example that, in Australia at least, the Federal Court is embracing the use of standard off-the-shelf software to undertake hearings and deliver justice at some of its highest levels. I mean, this was one of the largest prosecutions that the ICAC has brought. So, it shouldn't be an impediment. Is there a risk that the people who are making decisions aren't getting the benefit necessarily, aren't being joined by those that would have the knowledge and experience to say, this can be done?
**Chris Patterson 33:12**
I'm not sure that that is the case. I think there is a willingness to use technology and to embrace it. And I think as you said, the pandemic should be forced the hand. I think back before the pandemic, we would be a lot further back because people wouldn't have been forced to engage with it and seen that it can work. But like everything in the justice system, it's complicated, right? So a hearing that works really well with counsel, where you've got everyone kind of on the same level playing field and you're all engaging with this technology. In the same way, can work really well, but it doesn't mean that it translates to all types of hearings for all types of issues. And I'm not an expert on this particular area, but I know that the Baron Foundation has brought Professor Linda Mulcahy to New Zealand. She's here this week. She's an expert in courthouse design, including looking at virtual courts and some of the very complicated issues that arise with having litigants in person on virtual courts and having different types of hearings in courts, the way you set up cameras. There's also been some really great work out of Australia; David Tate and Meredith Rosner have done work on this. There's a lot of hidden devil in the detail with virtual hearings. So I think the courts are right to be cautious about jumping in and just saying this is great, let's do it this way, because it does come with some hidden problems as well. I mean, there's always some conservative people, the Luddites of the profession, will be around as well. But certainly in my interaction, which I have quite a lot of with both the bench and the ministry, I think there is a keenness. There's just a caution as well. And I'm not sure the caution is misplaced myself. So I think we need to be pressing on. But we should press on with all the evidence available. And I think that the evidence is getting before the people who are making decisions.
**Chris Patterson 35:18**
Yeah, no, look, come in. I completely agree with you. I mean, for reasons that are just beyond me, I don't understand. We're almost going through a retrograde scenario where now that the pandemic protocols and the courts have come to an end, the Ministry of Justice has now said there should be no more electronic filing unless you make an application and you get granted leave to do that. Why we're now starting to go backward is beyond me. But let's move on. The next area in terms of barriers that I want to talk about is the information area. And that is basically, before we do, maybe this is a good segue to go into it as going back to online dispute resolution via online means that does create a digital divide issue, doesn't it? Because not everyone in our communities and societies has access to the internet or reliable access to it. So that is a problem that will need to be overcome. Would you agree with that?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 36:25**
Yeah, absolutely. So, I published a report with my colleague, Dr. K list, a couple of weeks ago called "Express Legal Need in Aotearoa." We were looking through the lens of community Citizens Advice Bureau data at what people need to resolve disputes. In that report, we did discuss the fact that there is a digital divide, and we have to be very clear when we are designing things for our justice systems that you can't substitute the digital and have no in-person or additional support. It won't work because it will cut a bunch of people out. That's not just people who don't have the internet, because lots of people in New Zealand have the internet, but you need a lot of different skills and confidence to be able to engage with an online court or an online dispute resolution process, to be able to use that effectively. For example, my mom needed to make a complaint to the police because her car was damaged by some vandals. And she called them, and they said to fill out our online form to record it. Now, she's got the internet and actually spends a lot of time on Facebook; she uses the internet and her phone quite a lot. But she came over to my house so I could fill it out for her while she sat next to me and told me the details because she didn't have the confidence to engage with the formal system. That feeling of engaging with authority and saying something that you can't take back without support from someone else, who happens to be her legal professional, so that's handy for her. We need to have a system where I think we inevitably have to move to online systems because it just doesn't make sense to stay with paper. But you do need an in-person service like Community Law, Citizens Advice, people who sit there and can sit with a person and say, "Great, tell me about your dispute, and I'm going to type it into this computer for you. We'll check it through together, and then we'll submit it." So they have that person helping them. Some people like you and me will be able to do that in our office ourselves and help some of our friends do it. But other people who don't have friends who are in the legal profession or have high confidence with these sorts of things will need a service provided to do that. I strongly advocate that we go digital, but we have to have an in-person service that delivers access for everybody. It's not just digital; it's also literacy. We have a large number of people in our society who are either not literate or who have neurodiversity. There are lots of reasons why you might not be able to engage with one of these systems. We can't have a system where people feel inadequate because they can't do it themselves; that's not okay.
**Chris Patterson 40:54**
You make a very good point about Community Law. If we're going to have a system of justice that requires access to digital resources, we've got to make those digital resources accessible to people, even if it's through Community Law, or having computers there and someone who can show them how to connect to their online hearing. Obviously, in New Zealand, we still don't have internet coverage throughout the country. I know the rural community really struggles. So there's some infrastructure investment and time that needs to be made. Let's now move on. The next area I want to talk about is the information gap and the cultural issues, both of which are barriers to access to justice. As you mentioned, not everyone likes being in dispute; for some people, it's not part of who they are. The system of justice can be designed for people and their needs, where they are. It may include people who are conflict-averse and providing them the support to help them move through that conflict. Lawyers are there to guide them through the process of the dispute towards resolution. As for our system of justice, it's designed in a UK-centric way, which may not be inclusive enough for other members of our community who aren't UK-centric minded.
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 42:33**
Yeah, well, absolutely. Because I mean, it's completely drawn from England, we have our courts set up in exactly the same way. I mean, we have made quite a big move towards dispute, what we sometimes call ADR, you know, alternative dispute resolution in New Zealand. So we do have a large number of schemes and mechanisms that encourage mediation, probably more so than other countries, I suspect, that is a big feature of our system.
**Chris Patterson 43:02**
Absolutely right. I mean, I'll use employment as an example. And again, sort of forced upon the department, what used to be the Department of Labor became Inbee, the Ministry of everyone, just about who have a mediation service that is provided free of charge to help resolve employment disputes. And employment disputes can be some of the more distressing disputes that people get involved in. And efficient resolution means is really important. Now, traditionally, mediation was face to face. You get the parties in a room together, a third party neutral. They all have to exchange positions. Third-party neutral may separate them and then engage in shuttle diplomacy. And then, boom, bingo, bam, there's a resolution that people can live with. It may not make them happy, but if it's an outcome that both of them hate, it's probably the right outcome. But it gives them an outcome and the ability to move on. Now, that was delivered in person. The pandemic forced the mediation service to do Zoom mediations, by Zoom. In my experience, at least, and talking to colleagues, it's been a success. People are able to still resolve disputes without having to sit across the table from each other and eyeball themselves. So, you know, I do agree with you. There are some disputes that are more amenable to having people in person and in a room. But, at a generalization level, online mediation can be super effective. I believe that the mediation service through MB is probably one of the busiest mediation services by a long shot. And they seem to be able to deliver it online without too much difficulty.
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 44:51**
Yeah, I mean, we've got a lot of schemes like that in New Zealand, and they do, to a large extent, operate very well. People have raised allusions from them. So, yeah, I don't want to paint a picture like we just have everyone going to the Four Courts. Because it's simply not true. Most people's interaction with the justice system will be in something like employment or tenancy mediation or the Disputes Tribunal, perhaps. But when you do have to walk in the door of a formal court, you will certainly find a very English system before you.
**Chris Patterson 45:28**
Okay, well, look, let's now move on to the sort of the last, you know, barrier challenge to the Access to Justice, problem, or challenge is money. Yeah, show me the money. Let's talk about money. What can you tell us about the cost of litigation and how that acts as a barrier to justice.
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 45:51**
So the main cost for litigation is if you need to employ a lawyer to represent you, then you're going to quickly run up fees. That means that most disputes, I think the some of the estimates that were given to the Rules Committee are probably from anything under 100,000 New Zealand dollars is probably not going to be worth litigating with a lawyer because the legal fees will outstrip any kind of gain that you might get from winning the case. Of course, you have your exposure to costs as well. So the math doesn't make sense if you're in there under $100,000.
**Chris Patterson 46:30**
Can we talk about civil legal aid? Because when we're saying, you know, the cost, we do have a civil legal aid system that provides funding for civil disputes. But that funding isn't available to everyone. Is that correct?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 46:47**
Yeah. Well, so the threshold for legal aid is set somewhere around. If you're not a beneficiary, you're probably unlikely to get civil legal aid.
**Chris Patterson 46:57**
I can give you the exact numbers.
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 47:01**
Number of dependents, right?
**Chris Patterson 47:03**
Well, let's just take a single person, so a single person in New Zealand with no dependents of the threshold income threshold, taxable income threshold is currently $23,820.
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 47:15**
There we go.
**Chris Patterson 47:17**
And now, if you break that down to an hourly rate, for 48, working 40 hours a week, we're talking minimum wage, not even cost a living, sort of right. So that wouldn't tell us that a large number of people out there simply won't qualify for civil legal aid. But those that do qualify? It's not a gift? Like you don't get given the money. To your lawyer. Yeah, it's a loan, and the loan, yeah, yeah. And that loan can be secured over, you know, in for many people their most valuable asset that they might have as the home. So that sort of sits there with an expectation at some point, it's going to be repaid. So it's not a free ability to get a lawyer.
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 48:11**
No, it's not. And so for a lot of people who do qualify for legal aid, they won't take it for that reason. I've had research participants saying, you know, it was either a choice between keeping the house or keeping the kids to get civil legal aid to fight for the children; it's not worth it. You can't do it, you know, like, that's a bad choice to have to make. So people don't take it for that reason. The government did reset the Legal Aid thresholds and removed the interest off the loans recently, that comes in, I think, in the beginning of next year. So there's been a slight adjustment, but really, it wouldn't need a lot more money to make it actually more effective. And the other problem with civil legal aid is that even if you want to take the loan and do qualify, you have to find a civil aid legal civil aid registered lawyer. And that is a real challenge, because we have far fewer than we used to; a lot of people have pulled their names off the register. And even those who are still on the register usually only do one or two cases a year. So people tend to have the situation, which I'm sure you get as well, people calling around multiple lawyers trying to search for someone who will certify their case for legal aid and not being able to secure a lawyer.
**Chris Patterson 49:30**
You're absolutely right. So now you're going to get to a topic that I'm very passionate about. Something that has frustrated me because, by way of background for listeners, I'm an approved Legal Aid provider both civil and also criminal, Part 1 and 2. I won't get into the issues of Health 3, 4 that I've had with legal services, but that's for another day. Let's just deal with the issue of being a provider since 1998. So I have been a provider for quite a while. I regularly get telephone calls from people who are quite distressed, saying, "You are the 20th lawyer that I've rung, and every single one I've rung has said that they just don't have the capacity." And I then spend a large part of that day, sometimes it might be half an hour, which, you know, if I'm working five hours for the day, because I need to have a life outside of work, half an hour occupies a reasonable chunk, or I could spend three or four hours that day, trying to help these people find someone, assuming that I can't do it for them because there are some areas that I won't practice in. Or I'm conflicted or various other reasons. Trying to find someone that can help them now. It's not an easy process, and it's broken. An idea that I came up with was creating an app, sort of like Tinder for clients and lawyers, where you could put in your details and lawyers could swipe left or right to assess legal aid lawyers, whether they're able to do that to streamline that process. It is a problem. One of the other issues that I've raised is about lawyers not being involved in civil legal aid. I'll give you an example. If I've got an appeal or I need an instructing solicitor because I'm a barrister, but I've decided that there should be a solicitor there, and sometimes the rules require this. Thanks is an Auckland. There are only eight approved civil appeal legal aid providers who are solicitors, and all of Auckland. It's almost getting to the stage where it's just nonexistent, and that's a major problem as well. One of the advantages, and I guess this is why a lot of lawyers have either never gone into providing legal services under legal aid or they've taken their name off the list, is the issue of rates. Now, rates have increased a little bit. They haven't really kept up with inflation, but I'm at the highest level, and it's still $155 inclusive of GST. You compare that to my ordinary commercial rate of $650. There's a $495 an hour differential. And some might say, "Well, Chris, your hourly rate is ridiculously high," and it has to be at that level to be able to meet the costs of running a legal practice. I've got two senior litigation secretaries who are amazing, but the cost to employ them is significant. I've got to cover insurance, I've got all the costs of my chambers, etc. By the time you drill it all down, doing legal aid as a loss leader, and it's a significant loss leader, I lose a large amount of money each year, every time I do a legal aid instruction. So why would anyone do it? Well, one answer, well, my answer, and perhaps yours as well, is a service to the community. But not every lawyer wants to do that. So what can we do? Maybe one solution is to actually look at why is it that running a legal practice is so expensive, and can we design a system where legal aid lawyers or lawyers who are doing genuine pro bono, and I do, Bridget, I want to ask you about pro bono and your definition of that in a moment, but lawyers who are doing these things at a cost where the cost can be reduced down. Maybe one area, I just mentioned insurance, because it's a big cost for a lot of lawyers, is that you don't have to rely on your insurance so much when you're providing a service that's costing you money. Analogy, when I worked for our county attorney's office in New York back in the mid '90s, I met a number of doctors who would go to South America and do 150 heart surgeries down there and then come back to the States to practice as a cardiologist because your insurance would be so much cheaper that they had. They'd be able to say to the insurer, "I've done 150 open heart surgeries. Yeah, a few of them died. But you know, I couldn't get sued in those countries." But now my assurance levels down. Perhaps we need to look at unbundling legal services and unpacking them all so that lawyers can serve. We certainly haven't covered these responsibilities and costs at the same level when they're providing a community service on a loss-leading basis. I don't know. There's a lot there. I've probably spoken too much. What's your thoughts on that?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 55:13**
Well, I think the short point, I guess, is that the model that we've got, at the moment, it's not working, because lawyers aren't signing up to it. And it seems pretty unlikely that the government's going to pour more and more money into legal aid because it is a huge cost. When you look at how much they put in this year's budget and how it really only blinks the rates up a little bit, it's just not really sustainable the way that it's set up. So then I think we need to look at other models.
**Chris Patterson 55:47**
A false economy, because when you start getting litigants in person, isn't it just shifting the cost to the state from funding an effective legal aid system to then funding a judicial system that's under more pressure? You've got to a judge, who, by the way, judges in this country are paid a reasonable salary. It's not a small salary; it's significantly more than the average income in New Zealand. But they're having to, in fact, I'll make this point. There are many judges who are paid significantly more than what many lawyers in this country earn. For some lawyers, being promoted as a judge is a salary increase for them. Isn't it just pushing the resource that the state's providing fully paid for being a judge onto them to manage litigants in person rather than having the state provide a lawyer who can manage them?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 56:53**
Yes, to a certain extent, but I think the bigger cost that comes to the state when you don't have an effective legal aid system is actually health and other wellbeing services because, like what we talked about at the beginning, unresolved civil justice problems have this kind of knock-on effect. So yes, if you zoom out and think, "Alright, it's going to cost the state a huge amount of money if we don't have effective resolution. Therefore, we should put more money into legal aid." But the amount of money that would be needed to make legal aid work under the current system, I think, is unrealistic. So I think we need to be looking at different kinds of levers to pull as opposed to just thinking, "How can we crank up the rates to make them match commercial practice?"
**Chris Patterson 57:43**
Look, I agree. It's a multi-faceted solution that's going to be required. Let's stick with the topic of money, though, and perhaps let's talk about our tax system and whether our tax system operates as a barrier to access to justice. I'll give you this example: Let's say we've got an employee, we'll say their name is Bob Smith, just use a simple name. And Bob has been made redundant, and their employer has withheld salary. And I won't mention holiday pay because they can go off to a labor inspector and get the holiday pay. But they've withheld salary and a bonus that they're owed, and the amount is, let's just say, in simple terms, it's $10,000. Okay, but that $10,000 is really important to Bob. Bob goes, "Okay, I need to recover that." They go through the process of recovering that money through the Employment Relations Authority, who awards them the money. Okay, they're owed the money. Then they go through the process of debt recovery, all of which they are funding a lawyer out of tax-paid money. But the employer, who's defending unsuccessfully, is paying out of money that they can claim a tax deduction on and get all the GST back. And then when Bob actually gets the 10 grand, the IRD says, "Thank you very much. We're going to take, you know, if there are in a higher tax bracket, we're going to take $3,900 off you, even though you're funded recovering that money out of tax money that you actually had already paid tax on." You can contrast that to the employer, who let's say, is in the service industry, and they are owed money by a client, $10,000. So they go to a lawyer, and again, the same scenario, it's a debt, they get the $10,000 back. But at least the lawyer they've engaged, they've been able to claim the GST back and the tax deduction. How can that possibly be fair when Bob Smith is actually paying for the dispute resolution, the court system, and their employer, who may not pay any tax at all, isn't contributing at all? But because of the tax advantages. Is that a fair system?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 1:00:20**
Well, I think it's a good point because it's about looking much more broadly at the kind of incentives that are sitting behind some of these disputes. You'll see the same sorts of things going on in residential tenancy and things like that as well, where there are differing incentives for the different parties about where to settle that dispute and who covers the costs in real terms. So yeah, I think, obviously, that's not fair. We need to think a lot more broadly as a profession and to put these kinds of points across to policymakers and say, "Here's something where we could make an adjustment, which will have a real effect." I think there's a tendency, though, for legal professionals to continue to say there's not enough money in legal aid, and that might be true. But it's also not realistic to think that it's going to go up to such an extent that it's going to fix the system. So we need to be more creative, which is my point. I think what you've just posed is one of those pieces of the puzzle that we need to put on the table and say, "Here's something you can change."
**Chris Patterson 1:01:29**
Yeah, well, dealing with employment, but I'll talk about relationship property in a second. The legal profession does compete with these employment advocates who are able to provide a service on a no-win-no-fee basis, that contingency model, and they're unregulated. They're able to do that, whereas the legal profession does have regulations that are in place. You're not allowed to charge a percentage. So you're back to this archaic model of charging an hourly rate, etc. If, for example, the legal profession was able to modernize a little bit and actually get a bit more realistic in the provision of services, do you think there might be some scope to have more flexible charging models where lawyers can say, "If you don't have any money but you've got a great claim, I'm willing to take this on and assist you. But I need to be able to cover the risk that I'm not going to get paid, in the fact that I'm funding this." There are litigation funders out there, and they've been on the scene for quite a while, they're able to charge a percentage, but lawyers don't have in New Zealand that ability. It's existed in the personal injury jurisdictions across many of our common countries that we deal with, the United States, even the great sunny state of New South Wales. So do you think that part of the solution could sit in more flexible charging models?
**Chris Patterson 1:03:12**
Yeah, I've certainly looked at this in the past. And it's part of the independent review of the legal profession, which is going on at the moment. The report should be out soon. It's looking more broadly at some of these things and whether there is room to create access to justice by thinking more creatively about how we charge clients so that we don't have to stick with this just hourly rate. But that said, we have to be careful. My submission to that review was that employment advocates shouldn't be regulated. So I don't think we necessarily want to go the direction of the practice because there are some good reasons and some consequences that can happen if you adopt some of these contingency-type models. That's why they're regulated out of our system. Again, it's complicated. But yes, I would totally endorse the idea of thinking more creatively about how we charge clients and the transparency around how we charge clients. There's a big problem with people getting surprised bills or inaccurate estimates. Those kinds of things create real fear and anguish for clients and generate a lot of disputes and a lot of complaints to the Law Society. So we could definitely do better on billing, and there could be some room for regulatory change to support that.
**Chris Patterson 1:04:36**
Yeah, well, one other regulatory area is there's an absolute prohibition on lawyers entering into a contingency arrangement in relationship property disputes. I can't see what the underlying logic of that is because it's not uncommon. And the law reflects that there will usually be one party to a relationship who has the least financial means and in fact often will have no financial means at all to be able to fund a lawyer, whereas the other party may, and that creates an inequality in access to justice. But that's for the regulators to work their way through. Let's move on to the topic of pro bono. Listeners out there will be familiar with this concept of lawyers working pro bono. What's your definition of pro bono?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 1:05:27**
Well, I don't have my own definition, but I did adopt, for the purposes of some research, an Australian definition, because I thought that was a good one. The issue I've had when I was looking into pro bono in New Zealand was that the term is used very loosely. So really, the intention behind it is focused on delivering free legal services for people who wouldn't otherwise be able to access them. It's about addressing the issues we've been talking about with people being unable to access lawyers. Instead, it's used very broadly to include community days, painting a house or something at a poor community as being pro bono work or doing free legal work for the golf club or something like that. So it's not really addressing the access to justice gap as such. So I have advocated for the New Zealand Law Society to adopt a much clearer definition. They do have a definition, but in their publications, they tend to use it a bit more loosely. Because I think that's important for creating culture in the legal profession about what counts as pro bono and what counts as just advertising or pro bono-washing. I don't know.
**Chris Patterson 1:06:51**
You mentioned providing services to a golf club. I mean, if you've got a couple of partners of a large national firm who are providing legal services to a prominent golf club, without expectation of direct money changing hands, let's say it's to oppose a resource management application by a neighbor. If one drills down to the motivations there, the motivations may be, "Okay, well, I'm providing a free service, but we're getting great marketing for our law firm. And a lot of the members of that club engage us because of our association with that. So indirectly, we're getting paid." Is that pro bono?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 1:07:42**
No, that's not the definition of pro bono that I've certainly been using. And there is this... I mean, the thing with pro bono is that it impacts on the profession very differently depending on which part you're in. So when there's been discussion about mandatory pro bono, you get complaints from people who are doing work like you're doing or the criminal defense bar who are saying, "We're already doing pro bono in the form of legal aid because it's so low, it's kind of got pro bono baked into it, or we already spend hours on the phone helping clients find a legal aid lawyer. That is pro bono; we shouldn't be expected to be doing more of this work." And then you have the big national firms kind of using it as marketing to get more work or to attract the best graduates who are keen to be part of social justice. So that's quite powerful to them as well. And I think there's a very strong case that we need to clean up how we use the word pro bono to an extent. The New Zealand Pro Bono Clearing Houses are helping to address some of this because they're acting as a way to make sure that the cases that people are taking are actually pro bono. They're checking them first and verifying them.
**Chris Patterson 1:09:02**
And that has been such a great initiative. One of the things that I really appreciate with them from a professional and a personal perspective is that they actually take the time and effort to thank people. It's great that they do that because often, when you're doing Legal Aid or true pro bono work, other than the clients, you don't really get a lot of thanks. In fact, sometimes you actually get resistance from the people who you would think would be supporting. In particular, the court system isn't really well set up for dealing with pro bono and Legal Aid clients.
**Chris Patterson 1:13:08**
I don't know. What do you see the rules existing for? What's the purpose?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 1:13:19**
Well, one of the issues that I sort of had with this review that the rules committee did from the outset was that they were attempting to go broad and to help access to justice because they really care about it. The people on the Rules Committee do care about it, but they have quite a limited toolset available to them because they have just the rules. The rules are tilted towards delivering accurate, substantively accurate judgments based on a rule of law conception.
**Chris Patterson 1:14:41**
Isn't this herein lies part of the problem with the whole design of the rules? It's so focused on that outcome. But in civil litigation, the large majority of cases don't result in a judgment, they settle. So why design a system that's focused on producing judgments when only 5% of them in a civil system actually produce judgments?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 1:15:35**
Resolution that people can live with is not necessarily a resolution that's correct according to the law. But it raises the question of what access to justice is about - whether it's about any outcome or an outcome in accordance with the law.
**Chris Patterson 1:15:58**
If you've got two companies fighting over money, does it really matter if the settlement doesn't accord with the exact legal entitlements but both parties are happy with it?
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 1:16:16**
An argument would be that it is problematic if the settlement led to trading off something damaging to the environment, against regulations, or harming the legal system in some other way. Mediated agreements can raise issues about the power relationship between the parties and whether someone has been encouraged to let go of their legal rights in favor of a quick resolution.
**Chris Patterson 1:17:09**
I chose to keep it simple with two companies arguing about money. Most cases end in settlements that may not strictly adhere to legal entitlements but result from commercial considerations.
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 1:17:43**
The rules don't prevent that from happening, and most cases are resolved through negotiation and mediation. The background of the legal system and its pursuit of accurate judgments is essential, even if most cases settle.
**Chris Patterson 1:19:10**
The court acts as a backstop or safety net in negotiations, and an accurate judgment is what the parties rely on. The system offers a resolution that may not fully adhere to legal standards but provides a resolution.
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 1:21:25**
The report and recommendations from the Rules Committee focus on assisting parties to resolve disputes by agreement. They are exploring alternatives to judicial settlement conferences, such as Disputes Tribunal referees mediating District Court claims.
**Chris Patterson 1:23:20**
Not all judges are inherently great mediators, and it is a specific skill set that not all judges possess. There's a question about whether judges are the best individuals to facilitate a mediated outcome.
**Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 1:23:45**
Court-based mediation and the role of judges in mediation have been explored, and there's literature available on these issues to guide decision-making.
**Chris Patterson 1:23:45**
The increase in Disputes Tribunal jurisdiction is a sound move, but there are also potential disadvantages, particularly when larger amounts are at stake.
**Chris Patterson 1:26:01**
Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin's research in the New Zealand Legal Services Mapping Project uncovered issues with the Legal Aid framework in New Zealand.
Chris Patterson 1:23:45
Look, there are, and I mean, I think increasing the Disputes Tribunal jurisdiction is a sound move. There's always going to be disadvantages because for increasing the amount means that there's more at stake for people. If things don't go their way and there is an unfair outcome, perhaps even procedurally unfair outcome, putting aside the right to appeal, the consequences can be quite horrific for some people. Hey, can I just ask you a little bit more about some of your specific research? I just want to jump back to 2018. I was going back a few years ago, the New Zealand legal services mapping project. Okay. Well, I mean, what were the problems was the Legal Aid framework that you found that came out of that.
Dr Bridgette Toy-Cronin 1:24:32
Yeah, well, so that was, I mean, that's going back a way now. And that was sort of trying to surface these issues around the fact that legal aid lawyers were difficult to find and completely nonexistent in some parts of New Zealand. So we were trying to look to see where free services were that people could access. And it sort of came out of my thesis research where when I was looking at what litigants in person were doing, and then go to court and the judge would say, oh, you should go and get advice. You need to go and get advice. And I'd be thinking, Well, where are these people gonna get advice? There is no advice available to them. So it was really thinking, Well, where is this advice in New Zealand? And where are the missing gaps? And it was sort of the beginning of the research program that I've been working on subsequently as well.
Chris Patterson 1:25:26
Okay. And then now that subsequent research was the New Zealand lawyers pro bono and access to justice paper that you've produced some 2020?
Dr Bridgette Toy-Cronin 1:25:35
Yeah, well, there's been lots of different research projects. But yeah, the pro bono one was part of that program. So we were looking at both pro bono work and what lawyers were doing in the way of pro bono, and also lawyers' discounting practices or doing, you know, kind of cheaper services and things like that.
Chris Patterson 1:25:56
Okay. And hey, look, before we finish up, I also wanted to talk to you about your teaching. Now, I just noticed that you're teaching legal system. So this is for, you know, first-year law students at a target of zero. That is correct, yeah. Okay. And then you've got a paper as well, which I was intrigued about, and I'll explain the reason why, called lawyers, clients, and the profession. I had a bit of a look online about it. And what it seemed to me is you're possibly delivering, and possibly the only person in Australasia that's delivering a paper for law students that's actually focused on the practicalities of being a lawyer. And the reason why I say that is that there's been a number of senior academics, only a couple of deans, the Australian law school, that have said, we need to modernize our legal education because we're not preparing students or graduates for actually practicing as lawyers. And the same, that was part of the rationale for the development of that paper.
Dr Bridgette Toy-Cronin 1:27:02
Yeah, well, that paper is really, I guess the sort of subtitle of that paper to me is stuff I wish I'd been taught before I left the profession. So I look at the legal profession through the kind of sociology lens. So thinking about the structure of the profession. I came from a non-lawyer family. And so when I went to law school, I just didn't really understand how the legal profession was made up. And I remember going to interviews with the big downtown firms, and they'd say, what kind of area of law do you want to be in? And I had no idea because I didn't know what a commercial team was or mergers and acquisitions. I just had no concept of how the profession's structured, the different, we talked about lawyers, that there's a criminal defense bar, and there are people who specialize in being a lawyer for a child or working in-house and things. So it's sort of trying to open the box a bit for students to think about what is the legal profession? How did it come to be? And how can we remake it in the future to deliver for clients or what the clients want? So it's directed at senior students who have preferably already clapped or gone and done something. So they've had a bit of a view of the law and the legal profession. And just getting them to engage with those kinds of questions. They also do quite a lot of introducing stories from research about client perspectives and getting them to think about clients and what clients want, how clients perceive lawyers, and how we could make sure that our practice meets their needs. And we do a lot on listening as a key lawyer's skill.
Chris Patterson 1:28:51
It's a great, in fact, it's a great human skill listening. More questions, you know that. Yeah. Or Bridget, I mean, that sounds like a fantastic course. And I say that really, sincerely in so many ways because we don't want our law students making, you know, what for them are quite serious career decisions based on the perception that they gain out of watching episodes of The Good Wife.
Dr Bridgette Toy-Cronin 1:29:19
Yes. Well, it's funny you say that because the last class I teach is planning for The Good Wife, and then we deconstruct it with the knowledge that we've got from doing direct engagement with pieces from those programs to be like, This is not real life. Because, yeah, it's a bit of a problem. That's what people come in.
Chris Patterson 1:29:40
I mean, there's probably even possibly a deeper problem, not only just at the level to which law schools are providing knowledge valuable to students and graduates as they then move on into the profession, but at a wider level. And what I'm saying is, in terms of generally, how US citizens learn about our legal system and what it means to participate in it. I understand that some high schools may teach Legal Studies. I don't know to what extent that's involved. But, you know, to be able to participate as a citizen and this whole suggestion of 16-year-olds being able to vote, Supreme Court has looked at, you know, is there a role for our education to better inform and demystify our court processes, not just to law students, but actually to make it more available to members of our community and society generally?
Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 1:30:49
Yeah, I mean, it's a suggestion that comes up a lot. And there might be something to it. Although I do feel for schools who are expected to deliver so much across so many kinds of domains. Maybe what we need is really realistic legal drama that delivers a more realistic view of how our courts actually work, featuring people having problems parking and all sorts of issues. Yeah, I don't know. I think it's complicated. And our citizens have to understand so much about so many complex things. I mean, yes, I wish people knew more. But I think we have to be careful about the demands that we place on our school teachers and also on our people about how we've created such a complex society, and then, you know, requiring all these different domains of knowledge about different aspects. But, yeah, there's certainly a place for somehow educating our population a bit more about what the role of courts actually are. But it's hard to do. But I know that there are a number of people in the profession who are interested in that question.
Chris Patterson 1:32:01
Yeah, no, look, absolutely. And also, do know that at a university level, because law plays quite a significant part and the regulation of relationships, etc. When I was at Otago, I was fortunate enough to be employed in the accounting department, which provided a legal course within the department. So they felt accounting students needed to know basic commercial law. And you know, and of course, they do. It's an important point for them. I love Bridget, thank you so much for joining me. We've covered a massive amount, okay. It's been a wild ride. And every topic we've covered could be a podcast in itself. There's so much there, too deep to dive into. I want to thank you for joining me. But I also want to thank you for the work you've done and the work that you're doing, which is incredibly important at shining a light on what is a significant challenge, to be able to solve the Access to Justice problem, and also just what the problem actually is. It's really important. You're doing amazing work. You're an inspiration. And I just wanted to thank you.
Dr. Bridgette Toy-Cronin 1:33:21
Yeah, thank you. Those are very kind words. But I'd also like to thank you for your dedication to this area and to all those other legal professionals and people who are out there who work hard to do this. It's such a complicated area, and it needs so many people working in collaboration to address it. So I think what you're doing is really important, and it's been a pleasure to talk to you.
Chris Patterson 1:33:41
Thank you. I look forward to catching up with you again soon. Thank you for tuning in and listening to this episode of The Law Down Under podcast. You're welcome to join in on the discussion via my podcast page, which you can access at patterson.co.nz. It's patterson.co.nz. Thanks for supporting the podcast and tune in again for more on the law, its application, and the future of the law here down under.