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From the President: Juggling life’s curve balls

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Cite as: April 2011 85(4) LIJ, p.4

The legal profession acts quickly to aid those affected by disaster. the challenge will be how it copes when confronted with adverse circumstances of its own.

What makes me proud to be a member of our profession is how quickly we come to the fore in times of need.

After the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 we moved quickly to help those stricken members of the public.

Fast forward to February this year. We had only just stopped reeling from the floods in Queensland and Victoria when Christchurch was hit by its second earthquake in four months.

I happened to be in front of a TV watching live footage of the disaster. I recall seeing two women in front of the Pyne Gould building with a manifest of their co-workers trying to work out who had survived and who was still missing. It was a harrowing scene.

The scene of those two women, hands shaking and voices filled with emotion, made me pause and consider how ready the legal profession is for what is coming at us.

I thought how lucky we were not to be in disaster mode but to be the ones helping in times of disaster. Will we be around to continue to do this or will the profession become so altered as to be ineffectual as a real voice in the community?

The purpose of the recent LIV Conference of Council was to put flesh on the bones of my presidential platform to “Leave No Lawyer Behind” and its primary aim of making us as ready as we can be to continue to serve our clients and the community.

Conference speakers such as Professor Tania Sourdin, NAB chief economist Alan Oster, Joanne Cameron (Mallesons Stephens Jacques) and Jon Kenton (Corrs Chambers Westgarth) made it very clear that we need to be aware of the environment in which we are – and will be – working and ready to face the challenges that will confront us.

We are witnessing the growth of the international mega firms and their continued arrival on our shores. With their growth it is self-evident that the provision of legal services will continue to be streamlined and outsourcing will increase. The days of bespoke legal services will be gone, except in limited areas of practice. How we adapt what we do will be the difference between survival and extinction.

The way in which we practise will create unique challenges when training young lawyers. The LIV intends to partner with law firms to ensure any future gaps in professional development are filled, so that young lawyers continue to see the whole picture.

It’s not all bad news. With advancing technology we will be location-independent and our mobility will create opportunities in terms of flexible offerings to staff, reduced overheads and the ability to better meet the needs of our equally mobile clients.

Former US lawyer turned social media guru Adrian Dayton educated the Conference of Council on the benefits of not being left behind in what is another form of communication. If we are prepared to embrace social media to remain connected, we will also remain in the conversation with both clients and the broader community.

And we also reflected at the conference on new ways of lawyering.

In my opening speech I referred to a session on mediation which I attended at the IBA Conference in Vancouver last year. The panel was comprised of clients – multinational clients – who expressed their loathing of litigation and how it prevented middle management from getting on with their core business.

While we need to unlearn what we have learned (apologies to Yoda), there is some silver lining. Lawyers have unique skills as problem-solvers and this will keep us viable as advisors and advocates for our clients, particularly if we look beyond litigation, become partners with our clients in the growth phases of their endeavours and focus on prevention.

The other curve balls that come at us are locked within our own psychological make-up.

To be a good lawyer we believe we must always be right. It makes us a pain to live with – just ask your non-lawyer friends or loved ones – but being always right is exhausting and lonely.

We are currently partnering with former lawyer turned psychologist Dr Quasi Hussein to apply for a Legal Services Board grant to look at how we might build resilience in lawyers.

Over the past few years we have been working to identify why and when lawyers have strayed into depression. We now need to do something about it for the benefit of our members and the broader community.

I have long been a believer in the benefits of meditation and was thrilled to be able to introduce the Conference of Council to Kay Dyson, a meditation teacher who shared its benefits.

The time was right to hear that there was something we could do in our daily lives to improve our own lot and our ability to cope with what comes at us. Those present were receptive; we need the message to keep spreading.


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