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Seven decades of success

News

Cite as: (2008) 82(12) LIJ, p.34

Begun in hard times, the LCA has become integral to a national legal profession, federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland said at its 75th anniversary dinner. The following is an edited version of his speech.

Seventy-five years is a remarkable achievement for any organisation.

When the Law Council of Australia (LCA) was formed in 1933, Australia was in a less than desirable space.

Like other countries, we were still experiencing the after-effects of the Great Depression. It was a time of enormous hardship – at its peak, almost 32 per cent of Australians were out of work.

Against this backdrop, the formation of the LCA seems in some ways inevitable – state and territory legal professions recognised the growing influence of the federal government across almost every aspect of national life, and knew that a national body would be the most efficient way to represent their interests to the government of the day.

The LCA has done that – and more – for more than seven decades. The organisation is not simply an adornment to the legal profession in Australia but integral to it.

Since becoming Attorney-General I have received invaluable input from the LCA in respect to numerous matters including:

  • our engagement with the UN – for example, through the convention against torture, the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, and the rights of persons with disabilities;
  • the delivery of family law services by the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Magistrates Court;
  • proceeds of crime legislation;
  • personal properties securities;
  • harmonisation of laws through the Council of Australian Governments; and
  • promotion of pro bono services within Australia and our region.

Time and time again, the LCA has strongly advocated its views on issues that, in one way or another, affect the entire community – and unquestionably for the better.

As an addendum, I might add this (and it was discussed at a forum on depression in the legal profession last night): one theory that was suggested to arrest increasing levels of stress in the profession is to give legal practitioners a broader perspective than simply completing timesheets and submitting fees.

In that context, lawyers who support and participate in the work of the LCA have the opportunity to obtain that broader perspective.

Depression is – regrettably – prevalent in the legal profession, and I think it is important that I take this opportunity to engage in the discussion.

A study conducted in 2007 by the national organisation beyondblue, in cooperation with Beaton Consulting, found that 15 percent of lawyers surveyed suffer from moderate to severe depression. This, I am told, is two and a half times the rate experienced by the general population.

It isn’t entirely clear why lawyers experience depression at such a high rate. However, there is the suggestion that the very nature of the profession may be to blame.

In the main, we lawyers are in the business of conflict resolution. We cannot escape the fact that we operate in an adversarial system.

Often we are competitive, high achieving individuals who strive for perfection.

These characteristics – which the profession tends to see as the hallmarks of a good lawyer – combined with the high-pressure environments in which lawyers often work, all seem to contribute to the widespread presence of depression in the legal profession.

I think this is an area where there can be constructive work and the government is prepared to work in partnership with the LCA to address this significant social issue.

In conclusion, on behalf of the Rudd government, thank you Mr President and your Council for what you do and for doing it so well.

I applaud your contributions to public policy in Australia, and look forward to working in partnership to ensure the ongoing improvement of the nation’s legal landscape.

Congratulations on the LCA’s 75th anniversary and warmest wishes for the years ahead. l

LCA celebrates 75 years

Judges, politicians and prominent members of the legal profession gathered in Canberra in September to celebrate the Law Council of Australia’s (LCA) 75th anniversary.

New High Court Chief Justice Robert French, federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland, former Chief Justice Sir Gerard Brennan and ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell were among the nearly 200 people who attended the 19 September dinner at the Australian War Memorial’s Anzac Hall.

In his address to the dinner guests LCA president Ross Ray QC reflected on the growth of the organisation and said it now represented a truly national legal profession.

A commemorative publication showcasing the LCA’s 75 years is available at http://www.lawcouncil.asn.au/shared/2457695462.pdf.

LIV’s anniversary plans

While the LCA had a special anniversary to mark, the LIV next year will have double the number of reasons to celebrate when it marks its sesquicentenary (150 years).

On 26 March 1859, 26 solicitors met and founded the LIV. In recognition of this event, the LIV will hold various events to mark the occasion during 2009.

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