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From big to all


Cite as: Jan/Feb 2010 84(1/2) LIJ, p.23

The LIV's new president Steven Stevens, a partner in a Large Law Firm Group firm, intends to represent all sections of the legal fraternity.

By Jason Gregory

A large law firm partner has taken the reins as LIV president during a year the legal community hopes will end with a cohesive and unified national profession.

Steven Stevens’ appointment to the role, while working as a Freehills revenue law section partner, reflects an increasing Large Law Firm Group (LLFG) participation in professional groups at both state and federal level.

“The whole profession needs to be represented in the push for a national profession. If we don’t show strong commitment then the profession’s voice is not heard,” Mr Stevens said.

Mr Stevens, who was a senior Victorian Treasury official before switching professions, said his key policy priorities this year were national profession reform and ensuring a better deal for Victoria in a new federal/state legal aid funding agreement.

Mr Stevens also wants to help address attraction and retention problems facing the profession, especially in rural, regional and remote (RRR) areas, promote work/life balance awareness and increase LIV mentoring and personal support services.

He hopes to highlight in the general community the LIV’s Referral Service, the organisation’s other pro bono activities and its contribution to a range of international, national and local social justice and human rights discussions.

“I am interested in making sure the LIV stays a strong member organisation and it provides its members with the support they need.

“However, we also have an obligation to work on social justice issues and to protect the legal rights of the community.

“As a profession we have a long tradition of providing a voice to those people who need a voice and helping the most vulnerable.”

Mr Stevens was inspired to become a lawyer when aged 12 and part of the public gallery observing a jury trial.

However, he first chose to study economics after finishing high school as his need to begin earning a wage outweighed his desire to begin a six-year full-time university course.

He then spent 12 years working as a public sector economist for both the federal and state governments, but during this time never lost the desire to be a lawyer and began studying law part-time.

In 1987 he swapped disciplines and two years later the then 39-year-old joined Freehills, where he has practised in revenue law, banking and finance and financial services.

“I really love being a lawyer. I get a kick out of research and dealing with clients who want a satisfactory conclusion to their problems and I love how no legal problem is the same.”

Although kidney failure threatened to curtail his career in 2007, Mr Stevens is the first LIV president from a large firm since Chris Dale in 2004.

The LLFG (which is a constituent body of the Law Council of Australia) conducted its first meeting in 2007 and represents about an eighth of the nation’s legal profession.

Member firms are Allens Arthur Robinson, Blake Dawson, Clayton Utz, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Deacons, DLA Phillips Fox, Mallesons Stephen Jaques, Minter Ellison and Freehills.

Mr Stevens believes the profession should mobilise more often to provide a single, united voice on relevant issues, such as national reform and legal aid funding.

He said a uniform system regulating the practice of law in Australia must arrive without any reduction in the independence of the profession and cost no more than the current system.

A Council of Australian Governments (COAG) taskforce, created by the federal government last year, is due to finalise draft legislation for a single national profession by 30 April.

“[A national profession] should benefit everyone and be simpler and cheaper. If it doesn’t do that then we have failed. There is no point having a national system at a greater cost,” Mr Stevens said.

He also called for only one body to conduct regulation in each state and said that “it is extremely important that the legal profession be represented on these bodies”.

He said this body should deal with the majority of small complaints within two months.

Also, Mr Stevens said, “legal aid is a big issue and Victoria has been most severely crunched in the last few years. We are not talking about large amounts of money needed from the state and federal Budgets.

“For government it is a question of priority and we hope the need will be recognised. If you cannot provide access to the justice system for those in the community who need it most, we are all worse off.

“A lack of funding manifests itself in matters such as children being unrepresented in Family Court matters and this can lead to social and societal problems.”

In the wake of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), Mr Stevens also wants to enhance current LIV mentoring and support services programs, especially for unemployed practitioners and those suffering depression, and programs relating to succession planning and transition.

“Having a mentoring and support service to assist members to look out for each other as fellow professionals is very important. Statistics show depression among lawyers is higher than many other professions.

“We need to increase the awareness and lessen the embarrassment among the profession when it comes to these types of issues.”

Mr Stevens said other lessons practitioners should have learned from the GFC are that existing clients are the best clients, the importance of being financially aware and careful in their practice and “if you don’t have business skills then you should develop them”.

His opinions are worth heeding as Mr Stevens has advised on issues surrounding structuring for the financial services and corporate sectors, corporate mergers and restructures and on transactions involving airports, power stations and road investments.

He said two other “live issues” for the profession were work/life balance and retention of young lawyers and those in RRR areas.

“Those firms who have not taken [work/life balance] into account are being forced to react to it.

“Young lawyers are aware of the issues when deciding where to work. People go through different stages in life and we need to stop the loss of talent from the profession and we need to provide options for the entire legal community,” he said.

“A law firm is only [as good as] its people and if you don’t have good people providing a good service you have nothing. And if a wonderful pool of talent leaves then you invariably suffer the consequences.”

He also believes young lawyers and students should use the GFC as encouragement to seek employment in RRR areas.

“It is a wonderful starting point and those who have done it have loved it. Some practitioners become the heart and soul of these communities.

“We don’t recognise the significant contribution they make enough and we need to make the profession realise the value of what is provided and be proud of the effort.”

Mr Stevens was first elected to Council in 2003 and during his time at the LIV has been on numerous committees, including chairing the Rules of Practice Committee and being a member of the Access to Justice, Audit and Ethics committees.

He has also chaired the LIV Governance Portfolio and been a member of the Justice Portfolio.

However, 2007 became a watershed year for the 2010 president as his legal career appeared over after he fell victim to an hereditary kidney condition.

“I was not sure I could even work two years ago as kidney failure can be really debilitating, but you just have to deal with it the best that you can. You cannot use excuses for not doing your job,” Mr Stevens said.

“I have a lot of support from my firm and had their support to stand for LIV president. I have great lawyers in my group and their support and that of the firm enable me to do this and I hope I can contribute to the profession.”

Mr Stevens holds a master of laws from the University of Melbourne and a master of economics from Monash University.

He is married with two adult children.


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