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Solicitors and the Law Institute In Victoria 1835-2019: Pathway To A Respected Profession

Solicitors and the Law Institute In Victoria 1835-2019: Pathway To A Respected Profession

By Simon Smith

Solicitors and the Law Institute in Victoria 1835-2019: Pathway to a Respected Profession is the first book to comprehensively examine the history of the solicitor side of the profession in Victoria. It explores the changing role of solicitors through such nation-building events as the gold rush, land booms, Federation, depressions and world wars through to 2019.

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  • Full description

    Solicitors have practised in Victoria since October 1838. That was when Englishman William Meek arrived at the Port Phillip colony from Sydney Town. He was lured by the prospect of conveyancing riches from the first land boom. The first practising barrister did not arrive until a year later.

    The early solicitor arrivals were a mixed bunch. They undertook the perilous three-month sea voyage from Britain for various reasons, including poor employment prospects at home, escape from social disgrace and the opportunities provided by a colonial adventure.

    While they were not convicts (who had dominated the Sydney legal profession after 1788), the reputation of the ‘attorneys solicitors and proctors’, as the early arrivals were known, was poor. Too many were seen as inferior legal practitioners focusing on petty cases and employing dubious practices (just like the attorneys portrayed by Charles Dickens as ‘pettifoggers’ in his novels).

    In the 181 years since Meek arrived, the solicitor side of the profession has grown in respectability and standing. From 14 solicitors admitted in the first sittings of the Supreme Court in 1841, by 2019 the profession is 20,000 strong, with women being in the majority. Central to the improved standing of the profession has been the role of the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV), the oldest law society in the country. But it took two decades of attempts before the profession finally organised itself into the LIV in 1859. Its core objective then was to improve professional standards by suppressing illegal and dishonourable practices.

    Since then the LIV has been the engine room of professional improvement, pioneering such things as legal aid, the Solicitors’ Guarantee Fund, compulsory professional indemnity insurance, a locum lawyer and management advisory service, accredited specialisation, superannuation and continuing professional development. It has also risen to the fore as an advocate for, and defender of, the rule of law on behalf of the community.

    Solicitors and the Law Institute in Victoria 1835-2019: Pathway to a Respected Profession is the first book to comprehensively examine the history of the solicitor side of the profession in Victoria. It explores the changing role of solicitors through such nation-building events as the gold rush, land booms, Federation, depressions and world wars.

    Along the way there is the impact of changing technology from the typewriter to computers, law reform in staple practice areas of conveyancing and personal injury, and tussles with the bar over amalgamation and with government over regulation. As the 21st century proceeds, the profession faces new challenges through globalisation, a growing ‘gig’ economy and increasing numbers of law graduates. If history is any guide, the LIV and solicitors of good will can meet those challenges while staying true to their integral role of supporting the rule of law in the community.

  • About the author

    Simon Smith is an Adjunct Professor with the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre at Victoria University. He is also a leading legal history scholar and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria (RHSV). He was Vice-President of the RHSV in 2009-2011. In 2016 he edited Judging for the People: A Social History of the Supreme Court in Victoria 1841-2016.

    His other recent published works include Barristers Solicitors Pettifoggers: Profiles in Australian Colonial Legal History (2014) and Maverick Litigants: A History of Vexatious Litigants in Australia 1930-2008 (2009).

    As a Monash University law undergraduate in the 1970s, Simon helped establish Australia’s first community legal centre, the Springvale Legal Service. In that context he was a founding editor of a leading practice text, the Lawyers Practice Manual (Vic). After completing his legal training in Oxford, he was admitted to practice in 1975. In 1978 he became the first full-time clinical legal education academic in Australia, based at Springvale.

    Through that clinical programme, for a decade, he helped introduce Monash undergraduates to the practice of law in a supervised poverty law setting. Over 40 years of that programme, the power of ‘first impressions’ on those future practitioners has contributed to the better practice of law in Australia.

    In the 1980s, Simon was a pioneer in alternative dispute resolution and was the first Ombudsman in the Australian financial services sector. In 1991 he helped establish the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals in Business (SOCAP). He was President in 1996. Later he was Senior Counsel with a top-500 insurance company and a curator of the nationally significant insurance archive, the Suncorp Insurance Archive, now in the hands of the State Library of Victoria.

    Simon holds the degrees of B Juris. LL M and PhD from Monash University. In the 2019 Australia Day honours he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to the law particularly in consumer affairs, to higher education, and to history.

  • Product details

    ISBN: 9780646806198

    Published: 2019

    Format: Hardcover

  • Table of contents

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