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From the President: Taking pride in our profession

Every Issue

Cite as: December 2010 84(12) LIJ, p.4

A year of diverse issues demonstrated how the legal profession excels.

The 2010 LIV legal awards on 5 November in Melbourne again brought home to me the outstanding contributions made to the legal profession and the community by our members – across so many areas.

All award nominees had made noteworthy contributions and the LIV awards further recognised those contributions as a continuing measure of the profession’s contribution to the law and those members of the community needing our support.

The awards demonstrated how proud we all should be of those members who go beyond the call of duty to help others and ensure the protection of human rights, the independence of the legal profession and judiciary from the executive arm of government, and the promotion of the rule of law. See pages 18-24 of this edition for a full coverage of the awards.

During my term as president, I have been fortunate to see and hear of the contributions undertaken by our members that reflect the message so evident at our awards function.

For example, our LIV Legal Aid Scheme (LIVLAS) has many volunteer firms and practitioners who provide their services on a pro bono basis.

Unfortunately, the shortage of public funds for legal aid throughout Australia, despite recent injections of funds by both state and commonwealth governments, has meant that:

  • many people in rural and regional areas appearing before a court have no representation or access to a legal practitioner;
  • many defendants appear on serious charges without representation; and
  • children involved in matrimonial disputes, through no fault of their own, are denied representation by an independent children’s lawyer.

The current legal aid crisis means there is an ever-increasing call on the legal profession to provide pro bono services to those people who would otherwise be denied representation – people with a mental illness, people with disabilities, refugees, asylum seekers and those in difficult economic circumstances and at risk of losing their home.

We can be very proud of the Victorian legal profession and its long history of providing assistance.

I am also proud of our profession for the steps it has taken with Indigenous communities on ways to work together to address causes of disadvantage and to promote reconciliation.

We have been fortunate to have former Federal Court judge Ron Merkel QC assist us in a meeting with Victorian Indigenous representatives to explore ways of jointly developing steps to deal with employment, education and mentoring issues.

All of these need to be developed and implemented as part of a reconciliation action plan, which our Council this year decided to pursue with Victorian Indigenous communities.

National legal profession reform has been a major issue this year. While we only have an interim report from the federal government taskforce at the time of writing, the LIV has worked closely with the Law Council of Australia (LCA) and our fellow state and territory law societies on an outcome for uniform legislation across Australia that, most importantly, maintains the profession’s independence.

Having recently met with federal AttorneyGeneral Robert McClelland to discuss the proposed reforms, we are generally satisfied that the work of the LCA and the state and territory law societies will result in legislation that brings the benefits of a national regime while ensuring that neither the regulatory burden on legal practitioners nor the costs of regulation are increased.

However, the entire profession must be vigilant to ensure that the promised reforms are carried out in the manner in which we expect them to be undertaken.

Elsewhere, I am pleased that Council has taken initiatives to establish a taskforce to review our services to members and promote the representation of the profession in the community and promote diversity in the profession.

These are long-term initiatives but are matters that need to be addressed to ensure our profession remains the inclusive and progressive profession it has long been and of which we can all be justifiably proud.

Finally, I would like to say how much of an honour it has been to serve as president of an organisation like the LIV that has such a long-standing tradition of serving the legal profession and the community as a whole.

This will be my last column and I would like to take the opportunity to publicly state my appreciation of the generous support I have received from the LIV membership, Council, the executive and LIV staff, especially CEO Michael Brett Young.

I look forward to working with incoming president Caroline Counsel, the principal of Caroline Counsel Family Lawyers.

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