ADLS Members’ Special Fund is here to assist

Lawyers facing financial hardship in unexpected circumstances may be able to seek help from the ADLS Members’ Special Fund.

Norman Elliot

Practitioners who find themselves in a difficult situation may be eligible for assistance by way of a loan or grant from the ADLS Members’ Special Fund to help them, says the ADLS Members’ Special Fund Committee Convenor, Norman Elliott. The long-established Fund fits well with the emphasis placed by the ADLS Council on providing services to members.

The Committee is responsible for overseeing and administering the Fund. It receives and considers applications and uses its discretion as to the provision of assistance. Although known as the “Members’” Special Fund – because it was set up during the time when all lawyers in the region were required to be members of ADLS – the Fund’s rules have recently been updated to give the Committee a broad discretion to assist any lawyer (or his/her family).

“There are two main categories of eligibility to apply to the Fund,” explains Mr Elliott. “The first is current members of ADLS who are admitted as barristers and solicitors. Student members are not eligible to apply until they are admitted. The second is practitioners who are not current members, but who have contributed to the fund when ADLS was a statutory society. In addition, applications may be made by spouses, partners or dependants of people in both categories. All of these people are eligible to apply as of right. The Committee has discretion to provide assistance to other lawyers and their families, in appropriate circumstances.”

“Eligibility has also been expanded in a geographical sense. There are now lots of ADLS members in other parts of New Zealand – not just in Auckland as was the case historically.”

Why was the fund originally set up?

ADLS has been providing assistance to practitioners and their families for nearly 80 years. In 1932, the President proposed to the Council that the Society should help lawyers who were facing hardship because of the depressed economic times. It was agreed that the Society would consider assisting (on an informal basis) practitioners whose difficulties were brought to its attention.

It was not until 1940 that the ADLS Benevolent Fund (as it was initially known) was created, with a pool of L200. The impetus for the establishment of a formal fund was the start of World War II and the resulting concern that lawyers would again encounter economic difficulties as a result of global events. During this time, assistance was often by way of clothing and food sent to practitioners serving overseas.

Following a suggestion from a Committee member, the name of the Fund was changed in the early 2000s from the “Benevolent Fund” to the “Members’ Special Fund”, to avoid embarrassment to practitioners when communications or cheques were sent to third parties.

Mr Elliott became a member of the Benevolent Fund Committee (as it then was) in 1993. He was appointed Convenor in January 1998 and, after 20 years in the role, intends to step down within the next 12 months.

What types of things can the fund assist with?

Financial assistance from the Members’ Special Fund is generally provided either in the form of a repayable loan, or (in special cases) a grant, at the discretion of the Committee. Mr Elliott stresses that the Fund is intended primarily for assistance on compassionate grounds in circumstances of hardship.

“The primary intention of the Fund is to respond where practitioners have found themselves in financial need through circumstances beyond their control. Examples we have dealt with are bereavement, illness, and urgent surgery. Other examples might include redundancy, or applications for assistance by survivors of deceased practitioners.”

The Committee does not normally approve purely business-related loans or other funding to run legal practices.

“Helping get your practice out of financial difficulties is not really in the spirit of what the Fund is about. However, in compelling circumstances, we might look at a loan to pay for accountancy services or counselling or a locum to help get a legal practice back on track.”

In the case of a loan, the Committee has discretion as to whether to charge interest or not, or whether to take security. In either case, it keeps the loans under regular review and expects people to keep up with their commitment to repay.

Mr Elliott says that the number of applications for assistance from the Fund has fallen in recent times. One probable factor is that many practitioners do not know of its existence or how to apply for assistance.

“In past years, we received several applications each year for assistance with paying practising fees, but that has dropped right away since the separation of ADLS from NZLS. However, that is something we can still assist with, usually by way of a loan repayable within twelve months.”

How can applications be made?

Applications for assistance from the Fund can be made at any time – there are no closing dates or specific times of the year at which requests must be received. The Committee (which must consist of no more than eight and no fewer than four legal practitioners who are ADLS members appointed by the Council) meets when necessary, depending on receipt of applications. As at the time of this article being written, the other members of the Committee were Bob Eades (a previous Convenor), Graham Wear, Eugenie Laracy, Paul Collins, Miles Brown, Don Wackrow and Luke Crawford, with ADLS CEO Sue Keppel serving as Secretary.

Those applying for help are required to provide detailed information about their financial situations, including their incomes, assets and debts, but all such details remain confidential.

“Both applications to and decisions of the Committee are treated with the utmost confidentiality, even as far as the ADLS Council is concerned,” reassures Mr Elliott. Annual reports to the Council cover general matters only, such as the number of grants and loans approved and the total amount of loans owed to the Fund, he says.

“We understand that it can be difficult for people to put forward details of their financial circumstances. Anyone with any concerns of that nature can contact the Fund’s Secretary or myself to discuss the sort of information the Committee would require,” he continues.

Mr Elliott says the Committee sees itself very much as having a custodial function over the Fund.

“The Fund is there to help those who need it, but it is finite. No contributions have been made to it since the separation of ADLS from NZLS. In administering the Fund, the Committee has to be aware that we have a wide group of people who potentially might want to call on it, and to take that into account when considering the amount of any assistance.”

For further information about the ADLS Members’ Special Fund, or to make an application for assistance, please email the fund Secretary, Sue Keppel, at sue.keppel@adls.org.nz in the first instance. Norman Elliott is also happy to be contacted at norman@penneypatel.co.nz or (09) 623 0402. Applications for assistance need to include information setting out in some detail the nature of the financial difficulty, and will be reviewed by the ADLS Members’ Special Fund Committee in the strictest confidence. 

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