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From the President: 2011- a year of inclusion

Cite as: December 2011 85(12) LIJ, p.04

Promoting diversity has been an ongoing theme for the year.

Sadly, one of the most exciting chapters in my professional life is coming to an end. I hang up the presidency on the stroke of midnight new year’s eve and pass the role of representing you, the members, to the very able and enthusiastic Michael Holcroft.

As I look back, I wonder if I have in part succeeded in my presidential platform of “Leave No Lawyer Behind”. We have certainly focused on the mental wellbeing of the profession. Awareness and attitudes to mental health were investigated by beyondblue as part of the Annual Business and Professions Study by Beaton Research and Consulting. We received the Beaton report on depression in the legal profession. (http://bit.ly/lYQnKG)

We are continuing to tackle this important issue and have sought a grant to fund the next steps to help the profession. In my travels, it was interesting to note that other law societies around the world, such as the Law Society of England and Wales, are now helping their members with this issue.

At the LIV we continue to offer our members complimentary and confidential counselling. The LIV’s LawCare program provides members with access to a psychologist and the cost of the first session is covered by the LIV. Via the continuing professional development (CPD) department we continue to work with Dr Quasi Hussain, who offers mindfulness training as a means of giving lawyers the skill to be self aware and therefore better able to detect and manage stress in their lives.

Our mentoring program connects younger practitioners with older heads to discuss privately concerns they have relevant to their legal careers.

We are promoting diversity and ensuring that the profession is representative of the community that it serves. This means tackling the issues of retention in the profession and making sure workplaces adapt to enable our members to remain working as lawyers as their personal lives change. Diversity is essential, especially when we consider the increasing percentages of female graduates. Diversity is also about promoting better outcomes for lawyers with disabilities. It is about encouraging firms and clients to rethink and, if needs be, change their expectations of how legal services are delivered and by whom. We don’t want to see a lawyer being left behind simply because they wanted to prioritise family for a period of time or had a disability. As reported in the November LIJ (“Disability planning”, page 16) the LIV has launched its disability action plan and employment strategy. This follows the LIJ’s award-winning coverage of lawyers with disabilities in May last year.

The LIV has been instrumental in continuing the work started several years ago under then president Tony Burke in looking at how the world market is changing and what predictions futurists are making for this profession. We are already living with outsourcing and while many members may have assumed this is the domain of large law firms, this is not the case. How do we continue to offer a quality product and remain competitive in an era when family law advice can be obtained for between $15 and $50 per hour from other countries? How is technology changing the product and timing of delivery to our clients? We heard from Joanne Cameron of Mallesons Stephen Jaques and Jon Kenton of Corrs Chambers Westgarth at a Breakfast Matters event. They painted a picture of where we are now and, more importantly, where we are headed in terms of legal practice.

The LIV is supportive of ensuring that lawyers have the right skills for the job and this means making a commitment to quality CPD. We all need to take up the challenge of developing our skills, not just filling minimum requirements of 10 units. It means exploring different ways of lawyering and dispute resolution. The LIV supports collaborative practice as it recognises that this form of dispute resolution makes perfect sense when parties to a negotiation or dispute wish to retain elements of their relationship after the ink has dried on their deal.

As a collaborative practitioner I am committed to offering clients a real alternative to court as a means of resolution. The skills required for this form of alternative dispute resolution were not taught at university (although it is heartening to see that Monash University is offering collaborative law as a subject in its postgraduate course). We are exploring the creation of an arbitration centre in Victoria which will, it is hoped, form part of a grid of such centres around Australia.

This year we have worked with a new state government and while we have held strongly differing opinions to those expressed by government on some issues, we have been heartened by the mutual respect and the inclusion in the ongoing conversation about such important topics as access to justice and legal aid funding, preservation of the Charter of Human Rights and judicial discretion in sentencing, and our vehement resistance to the concept of mandatory minimum or baseline sentencing. I know I leave our ongoing work with government in the capable hands of our incoming president and his executive.

To the LIV staff I extend my deepest thanks for their wise counsel and support. To those on staff who embraced our new ways of communicating to our members, such as Twitter and the President’s Blog, I give special thanks. You have helped fashion the next step in ensuring we leave no lawyer out of the conversation.

To the members who have emailed or commented throughout the year on all that the LIV does, I thank you. You have generated debate and added to our knowledge.

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