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LIV elections offer chance to shape future

News

Cite as: (2006) 80(9) LIJ, p. 20


As nominations for the Law Institute of Victoria Council approach, some current members discuss the many rewards of being on the profession’s peak decision-making body.

What prompts a lawyer with an already busy schedule to volunteer valuable time to contribute to the legal profession through the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) Council?

Each year 18 lawyers from all walks of the profession give such a commitment, by working as LIV Council members.

Five current members – Steven Stevens, Aurora Kostezky, Tony Burke, Danny Barlow and Bill O’Shea – spoke to the LIJ about their time on Council, saying it was time well spent.

For them, the motivation behind their involvement was the opportunity to put something back into the profession.

But they also enjoyed spin-off benefits, both personally and professionally, as a result of being surrounded by other like-minded lawyers. These benefits included being exposed to broad issues which have an impact on the law and delving into areas outside their normal practice.

Mr Stevens, is a Freehills partner who sits on several LIV Council and Section committees, as well as attending the monthly meetings.

He said he became involved in Council to help influence LIV policy and involvement in state taxation and revenue.

“One of the things I was concerned about was that the Law Institute and lawyers generally aren’t strongly represented on consultative bodies run by the Australian Taxation Office and I thought standing for Council was one way in which I could put forward a policy and try and pursue that goal,” he said.

“I think you get a lot of satisfaction out of putting effort into pursuing various issues to enhance the legal profession and seeing some outcome from it.”

Hunt & Hunt senior associate Ms Kostezky, who is in her second three-year term on Council, cited the positive aspect of having peers outside of her workplace.

“On a personal level I have most enjoyed the peers – your sense of yourself as a lawyer becomes bigger than just the work you do. Your view of yourself as a lawyer is not just dependent on those that you work with,” she said.

“I have been involved nearly my whole legal life and I wouldn’t have it any other way ... It has been a highlight of my career.”

Ms Kostezky said firms also benefited by having their lawyers on Council as they could be a “conduit for information”, reporting back on the latest trends and developments in law.

Burke & Associates principal Tony Burke, who is on Council Executive as treasurer, has found the LIV Council experience “deeply fulfilling and intellectually stimulating”.

“As a sole practitioner in a suburban practice, your life in practice can be some-what narrow and you tend after a while to be repeating yourself in the nature of the work that you do,” he said.

“This [being a member of Council] seemed to me a way of enlarging my experience and my circle of contacts and opportunities, and also a way of putting something back.”

He said it was uplifting to be surrounded by people who were striving for excellence, and there were “wonderful opportunities to make a difference instead of merely making budget”.

Council’s role includes making decisions about policies, rules and law affecting the profession, making representations or comments on policy or legislation to government and other organisations, and approving all submissions or comments made on behalf of the LIV.

A partner in Shepparton firm Riordan Legal, Mr Barlow said the exposure to different legal perspectives he had received while a Council member had been helpful to him in his day-to-day professional life.

“Your skills as a lawyer improve because you get those different perspectives,” he said.

“I think it has, to some degree, invigorated my work life because I have got a bit more balance rather than doing the one thing all the time.”

Bayside Health inhouse legal counsel Bill O’Shea agreed: “One of the best things about being on Council is it gives you a much more generalist view of the law. You learn areas of legal practice you wouldn’t otherwise know anything about”.

An LIV past-president, Mr O’Shea said Council was influential, being the “first port of call” when the government was proposing legislation impacting on legal matters.

“We are listened to. We are quoted in editorials. We are opinion leaders on a range of issues and when the LIV has a certain view on something, it carries a lot of weight,” he said.

“You have got a chance to influence decision-makers on that and it’s a great privilege to be in that position.”

Mr O’Shea said it was important for firms to support their lawyers being on Council.

“It is very important that the legal profession be self-regulating and that can only happen if members put their hand up and say they want to be involved in that process,” he said.

“The firms should be willing, in my view, to make their solicitors or partners available as a contribution to their profession.

“I think it is more the idea of altruism and giving something back, a bit like firms do when they take on pro bono.”

Mr O’Shea said being LIV president in 2003 had been a “fantastic experience” and the greatest privilege a Victorian solicitor could have.“There have only been 130-odd of them [in the LIV’s 147-year history] and it’s a very important position,” he said.

“It carries with it enormous responsibilities, particularly in dealing with government, in offering advice to government, commenting on appointments, getting cabinet information for comment prior to the public getting it, and really being prepared to take on the government if there is an issue that we believe is not in the interests of the public or human rights, or the solicitors.”

As well as the monthly meetings, Councillors may stand for election to the five-member Council Executive, which meets weekly.

Becoming a member of the Executive may mean a five-year commitment, as traditionally there is progression from fifth executive member through the office bearer positions of treasurer, vice-president and president. The outgoing president stays on the Executive as immediate past-president, providing a helpful continuity.

Any LIV member with a current local practising certificate can nominate to be elected as a Council member for a three-year term, and eight vacancies will be filled in this year’s elections.

To ensure a wide representation, Council must include, at its minimum, three practitioners from the suburbs, three from the city, three from the country, one corporate lawyer and one from legal aid.

Mr Barlow said anyone who was genuinely interested in joining Council, which meets monthly, should not be discouraged by worry about the time commitment.

“I don’t think it is overly onerous. If I thought it was I would not have stood for election after my casual vacancy year,” he said.

Mr Stevens said the reward was worth the effort.

“It’s a balancing act between your professional life and being on Council ,but the rewards you get from making a contribution make that time spent really worthwhile,” he said.

Mr Burke described the Council meetings as relaxed and friendly, with a good balance of formality and informality.

“I must admit when I first turned up to a Council meeting ... there’s all these people sitting around this big table and you think this is pretty intimidating. But after a while you realise it is not like that at all and it becomes much more relaxed,” he said.

“There is not the heated debate and the intensive politicking that some people fear there might be and ... it is a pretty supportive environment.”

Mr Barlow also didn’t know what to expect when he started on Council.

“The culture was something that I was really pleasantly surprised by,” he said.

“When I went in to fill a casual vacancy, I had this suspicion that given we have a group of lawyers sitting around a table together there would be a lot of clashes and that things might not be that productive.

“But on the contrary I found people very welcoming when I first started, and certainly [there is] an overriding respect for each other. And I think it is because people realise that we are all doing this for nothing – people are contributing in the ways that they can.

“There is a respect there for everyone’s role and everyone’s input.”

LIV Council 2006 elections

This year eight positions on the LIV Council will be up for election – six retiring by rotation and two casual vacancies.

At least two suburban practitioners must be elected to maintain the balance provided for in the constitution.

Nominations must be lodged with the LIV by 5pm on Wednesday, 4 October 2006. Nominations must be proposed and seconded by members of the LIV.

The election results will be announced at the annual general meeting (AGM) on 16 November.

Elected Council members will take up their roles from 1 January 2007.

For more information about the Council election, see http://www.liv.asn.au/about/structure/structure-The.html#Heading4. To read more about the AGM and elections, see “LIV Ltd annual general meeting”

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