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From the president: A regional focus

Every Issue

Cite as: (2009) 83(03) LIJ, p.4

The LIV and LCA will lobby governments for policies designed to encourage young professionals to work in the regions.

During my time on LIV Council the most consistent complaint I've received from solicitors practising in regional Victoria concerns the difficulty in attracting and retaining solicitors to work in their firms.

The rural lifestyle offers some wonderful benefits to those who choose to take advantage of it. I should know, I can vouch for this from my own experience.

Our regional firms perform varying and challenging work, often for sophisticated commercial clients. Yet often these firms complain that finding people to do the work is more difficult than attracting the work itself.

Even when young practitioners come to the bush, they often return to the city once they have gained some valuable experience.

This also gives rise to succession problems for many firms, with no one to take over once a practitioner decides it's time to exit the firm.

The issue is not unique to Victoria, with law societies across the country reporting similar concerns. I have been appointed co-chair of a Law Council of Australia (LCA) working group to address the issue of attraction and retention of practitioners generally.

We know that retention of young people in the profession is an issue not solely related to regional Australia. However, we have determined that the situation is most critical in the regions and we are focusing our attention there in the short-term.

The first stage of our project is to survey every solicitor in regional Australia to try and get some firm data on the nature and extent of the problem.

We want to know exactly how many solicitors are looking for practitioners to come to their regions and also information about the nature of the firms and the types of work they do. The data, when collected, will be used to finalise a strategy to address the problem.

It is possible that, in the short-term at least, the problem may ease as a result of the worldwide economic slowdown.

It is thought that a reduction in available jobs in the cities (both here and overseas) may cause some practitioners to head to the bush. My view is that while this may occur, it will only be a short-term fix. When economic conditions improve, whatever underlying problem that existed in relation to attracting and retaining practitioners in the country will remain.

The LCA working group knows that no single strategy will fix the problem. What is required is a multi-faceted approach.

Initiatives we are looking at include lobbying the federal government for HECS relief for solicitors practising in the country (HECS being the scheme which requires university graduates to repay university expenses to the government once they start working).

We also expect that law societies will have an active presence at law career expos, advocating the benefit of working in the bush.

It is also clear that the issue is not limited to the legal profession. I've spoken with representatives of the medical, engineering, accounting and other professions and all agree that there is a general reluctance among young professionals to work in the regions.

The problem then becomes a compounding one. People are less likely to move to a rural area if that area is not appropriately serviced by a full range of professional service providers.

Ultimately, it becomes a problem for the entire local community as they are forced to travel, sometimes significant distances, to obtain various services. I was recently contacted by a church representative who told me that his church was having trouble convincing ministers of religion to move to the bush.

Both the federal and state governments have expressed commitment to the wellbeing of our regional communities. We intend reminding them of this commitment when lobbying for their assistance in implementing measures that will hopefully encourage our young professionals back to the regions.

As I write this column, Victoria's regions have been devastated by bushfires and the loss of life and property makes this the country's worst natural disaster.

The fires have killed loved ones, razed homes, obliterated towns and wreaked havoc on communities.

On behalf of the LIV and the legal profession I express our profound sorrow at these events.

The LIV is aware that people affected by the bushfires will face a myriad of problems and issues, including legal matters.

With this in mind, the LIV has set up an advice line for victims of the fires seeking legal advice and will also direct the public to lawyers in their region who can help them at this dreadful time.

The LIV offers its thanks and support to those lawyers who have already started providing free legal advice to victims of the fires and their families.

The LIV will continue to monitor the situation and respond quickly in whatever way it can to this crisis.

Danny Barlow
President, Law Institute of Victoria


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