New LIV CEO outlines issues for the profession

Cite as: (2006) 80(8) LIJ, p. 14

Three decades of experience will help Michael Brett Young confront the many state and national issues facing the legal profession.

By Harriet Morley

New LIV CEO outlines issues for the profession

Three decades of experience will help Michael Brett Young confront the many state and national issues facing the legal profession.
By Harriet Morley

Michael Brett Young knows how to grow a law firm and make it responsive to client needs.

It was this knowledge which, as senior executive director, helped him continue the growth of Maurice Blackburn Cashman (MBC) to its current status as a national firm with 11 permanent offices and 300 staff.

With 31 years experience as a lawyer, Mr Brett Young will bring this drive and determination to his role as CEO of the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV).

Mr Brett Young said there were numerous state and national issues he was keen to address on behalf of the LIV membership when he began as CEO on 7 August.

On a state level the issues included the new Legal Profession Act 2004 (the Act), legal aid funding, clawing back tort law reforms, e-conveyancing, resourcing the courts, collaborative legal practice, law and order, professional legal training and social justice issues, including the Charter of Rights.

Mr Brett Young, 55, said the implementation of the Act, which came into effect last December, had not been “seamless”.

“It’s taking us forward, but there are issues that will need to be addressed fairly quickly.”

“For example, there is room for cost agreements to be tightened up to perhaps make it more relevant to the client and to the solicitor,” he said.

The regulation of the profession under Legal Services Commissioner Victoria Marles was also of great interest to Mr Brett Young.

“I hope to have a good working relationship with her, knowing that the LIV can provide a very good and independent service in the areas that are delegated to it,” he said.

Mr Brett Young welcomed the state government’s announcement on 20 June of $28 million for Victoria Legal Aid in 2006-07, but wanted to make sure the funding was spent wisely.

“Increasing funding doesn’t always lead to a better return, so making sure that increases in funding are used in the best possible way is important.”

Passionate about access to justice issues, Mr Brett Young said the tort law reforms had gone too far since sweeping changes were made to personal injury laws in 2003, and they “needed clawing back”.

“I think that there are now people who have suffered permanent injuries that are not compensated adequately because of the thresholds,” he said.

As a former partner in charge of conveyancing at MBC, he holds strong views on the current government review of conveyancing.

“Non-lawyers need strong regulation in that area,” Mr Brett Young said.

“Conveyancers have been working in the area, in some form, for a very long time, it’s not new. It needs to be regulated and controlled. If they don’t have the training, it is very hard for them to be able to provide the skill and service.”

As for e-conveyancing, he said he was determined to make sure it worked for all lawyers.

Lawyers in a democratic society also have a responsibility to ensure a strong Charter of Rights and Responsibilities, he said.

Mr Brett Young said in relation to the David Hicks situation and the Anti-Terrorism Act 2005: “As lawyers we have both a right and a responsibility to speak to government about these types of issues”.

“It is certainly a volatile world at the moment and if you can address the issues raised by various groups, you will go a long way to reducing some of the volatility,” he said.

[Mr Hicks is an Australian citizen and alleged terrorist who has been held in detention in Guantanamo Bay for the past four and a half years without coming to trial.]

On the issue of articles of clerkship and moves towards professional legal training (PLT) courses, Mr Brett Young said it was important that solicitors kept up with change.

He said articles of clerkship was not the only way forward for students to qualify as lawyers and the LIV had a big role in developing changes in the education and qualifications process.

Many of these matters are issues the LIV wants to see addressed in the lead-up to the 25 November state election.

The new CEO declared himself determined to do whatever was necessary to help the major parties acknowledge and address issues of concern to Victoria’s approximately 13,000 lawyers.

“I think there are backbenchers who are listening, and some ministers are; it’s just a matter of making sure they understand our profession,” he said.

“The Law Institute has a lot of research and information that I believe can help governments when they are looking at implementing change.”

On other fronts, the LIV also plans to question the major parties about land tax bracket creep and the Duties Act.

“We’ll certainly be able to tell government where changes will benefit people who aren’t as well off as others,” he said.

Shifting from a state-based to a national perspective, Mr Brett Young said reform of the Law Council of Australia (LCA) was of crucial importance.

A national approach would improve the profession’s efficiency and give it a stronger voice to influence government, he said.

He added that it was inevitable that the LCA would become a truly nationally representative body.

“[B]ut what we have to make sure is that in the process all lawyers get a fair say and are considered,” he said.

Mr Brett Young said if the profession became divided over the issue it would lose its strength and purpose.

“It is obviously a process that will require both the large and small firms to have some input. Without that input it will be very hard to implement.

He said major firms had a lot more across-border work and were important in the process of achieving a national profession.

“Major firms are very important.

“I want to work strongly with them to achieve this result.”

However, as a sole suburban solicitor at Barnett Rockman & Co Solicitors from 1975-78, Mr Brett Young knows all too well the importance of small and regional firms’ involvement in their professional organisation.

“I was in Dandenong where there were four of us and I was the only solicitor. I have worked in a small environment and it can get lonely, so I recognise that as an issue,” he said.

Theo Fleming & Associates principal Theo Fleming, who completed his articles year at Barnett Rockman & Co’s Frankston office with the new CEO, said his former colleague understood the issues facing smaller practices.

“The LIV has moved away from the dominant city interests, five or six major firms in particular, and is now more representative of all lawyers,” he said.

“I think Michael is capable enough to continue that. Conceptually he won’t have a problem [with the move towards a national profession] because of MBC’s history of lawyers being able to work nationally.”

Mr Brett Young cited professional standards legislation as an example of an issue best dealt with on a national stage by the LCA.

“Now that a national practice is really going to take place, we need to look at trying to find a national approach to professional standards, particularly if some lawyers are working in more than one jurisdiction.”

As a 24-year-old, Mr Brett Young’s legal career began as an articled clerk at suburban firm Barnett Rockman & Co Solicitors.

In 1978, Paul Mulvany, then MBC’s workers’ compensation partner, approached Mr Brett Young and asked him to join the firm of then 25 staff at its terrace house office in Drummond Street, Carlton.

Four years after starting in the litigation department Mr Brett Young was promoted to partner in charge of a litigation team and soon became responsible for the liquor licensing, commercial, conveyancing and mortgage departments.

In 2002 he was named managing partner of the firm’s Victorian, New South Wales and Queensland offices. He worked prominently on the conversion of the firm from a partnership structure into an incorporated organisation.

This was completed during the past 12 months, under Mr Brett Young as senior executive director.

During his leadership five MBC offices were established, the business amalgamated with three firms and a further 100 staff were employed.

The growth of the firm was one of his proudest professional achievements. But it was working with his staff during the transition that made it so important to him.

In a farewell letter to his colleagues at MBC, Mr Brett Young wrote: “A law firm is merely just a sterile organisation without people who are creative, loyal, dynamic and, most importantly, passionate about what they do”.

Mr Brett Young replaces former LIV CEO John Cain, himself a past managing partner of MBC.

The replacement of one LIV CEO with another from the same firm raised some eyebrows in the profession.

Among them was Phillips Fox partner Michael Salter who said he initially thought the appointment was a “case of the same old” because the LIV had selected from the “MBC plant again”.

But Mr Salter, who worked extensively with Mr Brett Young, said it was a sensible and commercially-viable selection.

“He has a very sound understanding of the legal profession as it exists today. He has always struck me as a balanced, fair and reasonable man,” he said.

Former LIV and LCA president, Blake Dawson Waldron partner Gordon Hughes, who first met the new CEO when they were secondary school students, said it was an excellent appointment.

“Filling John Cain’s shoes would be difficult for anyone, but the reputation he [Mr Brett Young] developed within the profession as a man of business was first class,” he said.

“It can be expected that he will demonstrate the necessary degree of patience to understand and address the myriad of issues that will quickly come across his desk.”

Mr Brett Young said he and Mr Cain were “definitely different people”.

“He has done a great job at the LIV and left a really strong body there, which I can build on.”

LIV president Cathy Gale said the LIV simply hired the “best person for the job”.

“I look forward to working with him over the next five years,” she said.

“The biggest challenge for any law society is remaining relevant to its members. Other challenges that he will face are grappling with the new regulatory regime and also the move towards a national profession.

“He expresses a good understanding of all of those issues and has a real sense of enthusiasm and commitment to ensuring that the LIV remains relevant to its diverse membership,” Ms Gale said.

Michael Brett Young is the first to admit he has come a long way since his barefoot childhood in Western Australia’s north.

“I rarely wore shoes for the first five years of my life. We lived in an area [near the Ord River] where we couldn’t move for three months during the wet season so we had to make our own entertainment,” he said.

“You couldn’t move because there was no road access. I have strong memories from that time.”

At the age of six, the family of three moved to Victoria’s western district where Nevil Brett Young [Michael’s father] worked on a property owned by former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.

In 1964, Mr Brett Young moved to Gardenvale to live with his aunt while he studied at Melbourne Grammar.

It was later at Monash University, during his combined law and economics degree, that he met his now wife Elisabeth.

The bustling sportsman captained the Monash Whites Football Club, before transferring to Old Melburnians.

Having never lost his love of sport, the keen cricketer runs an annual cricket match between his old university peers.

Also a sailor, Mr Brett Young has made the journey from Melbourne to Devonport five times.

With two sons studying law – Chris, 21, at Melbourne University and James, 23, at Monash University – Mr Brett Young is well aware of the emergence of Generations X and Y and the need to accommodate them in the legal profession.

He said Generations X and Y were evolving quickly with different views about where they should take the profession.

“We need to address some of the issues that they are raising. We need to put points of view to Generations X and Y and use whatever comes out of that to set the next 20-30 years.”

Generations X and Y needed to be addressed in the same breath as the increasing demand for workplace flexibility by both men and women in the profession, he said.

“Society has reached a stage where people generally want a flexible workplace, and with all firms it is an issue that they are going to be faced with.”

Mr Brett Young said with modern technology there was more ability to work remotely, which might encourage lawyers to work for longer periods.

“With women specifically, the profession needs to understand that they have certain family requirements and that they can actually meet those requirements and still play a very vital role at their firm. I think it’s slowly happening, but I would think there will be a push to speed it up.”

Speaking from a manager’s point of view Mr Brett Young said maintaining work-life balance was particularly important for young lawyers.

“Firms spend a lot of time introducing them into their systems and if they leave they are a loss to both the firm and the profession.”

He said the LIV must improve its relevance to young and regional lawyers because there were services the LIV provided but of which many solicitors were not aware.

“I’ve got two sons who are both training to be lawyers, so I know there is perhaps an opportunity to build up the connection between students and the LIV.”

While Mr Brett Young had regrets about leaving MBC after 28 years with the firm, he was attracted by the opportunity of working on new projects and challenges at the LIV, with staff he highly regarded.

He said law has always been both a profession and a business.

“It’s great to be a lawyer, but to maintain your relevance you have to run a business as well, because at the end of the day we do it because we are committed to law, but we have to make an income to allow ourselves to live,” he said.

Harriet Morley

Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls
“Mr Brett Young will be a firm and steady hand at the helm of the LIV.
“The LIV is very fortunate to have someone with his experience as a managing partner of a national law firm given ongoing reforms to establish a truly national legal profession.
“It is crucial that the LIV is led by someone like Mr Brett Young who understands the diversity and breadth of the profession, and who appreciates the increasingly national context in which the profession operates, at a time when the profession needs to be actively engaging with government on a range of new policy initiatives.”

Shadow Attorney-General Andrew McIntosh
“I welcome the appointment and I look forward to working with Mr Brett Young in the future.
“I am very pleased the LIV has appointed another senior litigation lawyer. I have many friends at the [Victorian] Bar who regard him highly.
“Issues that he will have to address include legal aid funding, extended delays in refurbishing the courts, especially the Supreme Court which seems to be going nowhere, and delays in [getting matters to court], particularly County Court criminal matters.
“He will also need to address the new Legal Profession Act 2004 because there are complexities that need to be worked through. No doubt he will be dealing with that as a priority.”

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