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From the CEO : A vision for the future

Every Issue

Cite as: (2002) 76(11) LIJ, p.6

THE LAW INSTITUTE HAS LISTENED – AND IS RESPONDING – TO THE NEEDS OF ITS MEMBERS.

Since taking up the position of CEO in April there has been no shortage of advice offered by members about the strengths and shortcomings of the Law Institute. There has also been no shortage of suggestions about the types of activities that the Institute should undertake on behalf of its members.

Some examples of the diverse range of views that come from members are the following:

  • “the greatest challenge is to offer something that appeals to the lawyer in major firms”;
  • “the Law Institute of Victoria exists for smaller, suburban and country solicitors”;
  • “the resources of the Institute are only set up for the benefit of the city firms”;
  • “the continuing legal education needs to be more accessible to suburban and country solicitors”;
  • “the Section network provides fantastic resources to practitioners but newsletters need to be more regular”; or
  • “the LIV should play a great advocacy role on behalf of its members”.

There is a diverse range of opinions, some in clear conflict.

Trying to adopt an integrated approach to meet the wide range of needs is never easy. But to do so, it was first essential that we got the best possible information from members so we could make decisions based on proper data and feedback, rather than on selective comment and input. A survey of members was the appropriate starting point for gathering this information.

The Institute, through Beaton Consulting, invited by email current and lapsed members to fill out a survey that aimed to ascertain what members valued – and did not value – about their membership. More than 2500 people responded. The survey asked the respondents for their reaction to a range of topics, including their perception of the value of Institute membership, the importance and value of services offered and what they consider should be the Institute’s objectives.

The survey found that while most members were satisfied with what the Institute had to offer, there were areas that needed work. Ninety-three per cent of members said they either “probably would” or “definitely would” renew their membership. The survey found that the key drivers in their decision to renew their membership were the importance of belonging to a professional organisation, employer payment of membership fees and the access to professional news and information.

This was consistent with the survey’s findings that the factors that drive overall member value were information services, such as the LIJ, Friday Facts, Section newsletters and legal education. There were also less tangible benefits to members such as enhancing professional development, providing a sense of belonging to a professional association and enhancing professional reputation.

These findings show that, on the whole, the Institute provides a good flow of information and resources to its members.

However, it was in the less tangible needs of members in which the Institute stumbled. The Institute was found to be failing in the area of raising the image of the legal profession, instilling a sense of belonging for members and raising members’ professional image.

Many respondents pointed to other professional organisations, such as the Australian Medical Association (AMA), which they thought were doing a good job in providing those benefits.

The survey asked lapsed members why they had not renewed their membership.

Of the 502 lapsed members that responded, it was found that the key drivers in their decision not to rejoin – in order of impact – were that they were working interstate or overseas, that membership was too expensive and that membership lacked relevance to their current work.

Key drivers for rejoining were professional fraternity and solidarity, being kept up to date with professional news, good services, and that membership was “useful” and “valuable”.

Interestingly, the survey asked respondents to rank from highest importance to lowest importance three statements that outlined potential objectives of the Institute.

The highest priority was given to the statement “Raising the standard of the profession in the community”. This echoed earlier findings on the need for the Institute to raise the image and profile of the legal profession and to create a more collegiate atmosphere for its members.

Information and Support

The Institute Council, at its October meeting, considered the report and discussed key priorities. While the Institute provides timely and detailed information about current legal matters, changes in the law and general information about practice through vehicles such as Friday Facts, the LIJ and the Section newsletters, more could be done to further add value to membership.

Friday Facts needs to focus on providing lawyers with up-to-date changes in the law and short bites of information that assist in day-to-day practice with pointers to further information if required. Section newsletters, presently produced quarterly, need to be produced more regularly. Sections will need to produce the newsletters five to six times a year.

Professional Development

The Professional Development program must offer regular events in all the major areas of practice with the latest information and the best speakers possible. In addition, the Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Department must respond quickly to the changing legal environment to ensure that when changes in the law occur, the Institute is the first group offering updates.

These CLE events must be accessible to suburban and country practitioners as well as city practitioners.

Law Reform

Members are looking for the Institute to play a key role in the development of new legislation. Both government and opposition regularly seek the opinion of the Institute on changes to law. However, it is essential that we go that one step further and work on setting the agenda for change as well as responding.

Where areas that require reform are identified – where there is clear injustice – the Institute must play a role in directing policy. This will involve ensuring that the Institute’s research and information capacity is capable of doing this work. Clearly, this must be done in conjunction with the Institute’s Sections and Committees.

However, the Research and Information Department within the Institute must do much of this legwork. In doing this, the Institute not only represents the interests of its members, but also of the community. We must ensure that this area is properly resourced and supported.

Lobbyist

The Institute must ensure that its relationship with both government and opposition is as strong as possible and ensure that it has a high profile with both sides of politics at a state and federal level.

LIV in the Media

In recent years energy and effort has been spent on improving the public profile of the Institute. The message from members is that more work needs to be done. The Institute needs to be a commentator on all legal matters. The fact that a significant proportion of members thought that the AMA was an organisation that was serving its members’ interests indicates that there is significant value put on having a high profile in the media.

Further resources must be allocated within the organisation to ensure that the highest profile is achieved and maintained.

Sense of Belonging

Providing a sense of belonging for members of the legal profession is much harder to achieve. It will not be done by one single act.

The Institute will immediately set up a comprehensive mentoring program for members.

Earlier this year, a pilot program where judges of the Supreme Court met regularly with groups of junior practitioners was introduced. This program has been well received and will hopefully be extended to include other judges of the Supreme Court and other courts. I think there is still more that can be done by senior practitioners in providing formal and informal mentoring to other members of the profession. The Institute needs to establish programs that will share the experiences of these senior practitioners as a way of giving guidance and insight into how to succeed in the practice of the law.

The Institute must also make the community aware of the unheralded yet vital pro bono and volunteer work lawyers do each and every day. No profession does more pro bono than the legal profession, and the public should be made aware of this.

Ethical Standards

The Institute must play a leading role in maintaining and promoting the highest possible ethical standards for the profession. The establishment of the Ethics Liaison Group will provide a forum for discussing and informing the profession on crucial ethical issues. The ongoing work by Linda Baxter in attending firms and presenting seminars is very important.

National Profession

The Institute needs to continue to lead the drive for a national profession. Much work has been done on this already, however, the Institute must continue in conjunction with the Law Council of Australia to drive this very important issue.

Government and Corporate Lawyers

Finally, the Institute must ensure that it meets the needs of some of the smaller segments of the legal profession. Government and corporate lawyers need to be provided with a sense of purpose and belonging within the Institute. The establishment of a Government Lawyers Section exclusively for public sector lawyers is an important initiative. Similarly, further efforts need to be made to include corporate lawyers within the Institute and to work closely with the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association.

To implement many of these initiatives will require the restructuring and reallocation of Institute resources. This process is underway.

The survey has provided important information to assist in the planning for the future of the Institute. The implementation of these plans is vital to ensure that the Institute provides value to its members.

While the Institute works towards becoming a more inclusive and responsive organisation, we can only achieve this through the participation of and feedback from our members. This is your Institute and its effectiveness and relevance will directly mirror the enthusiasm and interest of its members.

JOHN CAIN

jcain@liv.asn.au

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