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From the president: Adapting to changing times

From the president: Adapting to changing times

By Sam Pandya



Our commitment to justice, ethics and integrity should not be underestimated.

No doubt you are following the news of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) as carefully as we are. To keep everyone safe, the LIV has adopted precautions to ensure the continued health of staff, members and visitors.

We continue to monitor this situation closely and will provide you with updates in LawNews, the daily email to members, as the situation develops. Thank you for your understanding as we adapt to these challenging circumstances.

The recent LIV tour of bushfire-affected areas of Gippsland and north eastern Victoria has highlighted the remarkable role Victorian lawyers, acting pro bono, play in the community during and after a crisis. This enhances trust in lawyers to act ethically and professionally in the community and should be widely discussed and celebrated.

Our professionalism and ethical behaviour as lawyers is something we should talk more openly about among ourselves and with clients. We have all worked hard to become qualified to practise as lawyers. We swear or affirm an oath at the Supreme Court on admission to the profession and from that point onwards, we have a duty, first and foremost, to assist the Court in the administration of justice according to law. The practical training and acquisition of critical skills do not end there. While we are required to undertake at least 10 units of continuing professional development (CPD) each year, with ethics a compulsory CPD unit, our everyday practice and insight into the workings of the law and legal processes give us wisdom that we have a responsibility to share with others. We are undoubtedly one of the most ethically trained professions but recently our reputation for professionalism appears to have been undermined and some in our community perceive the profession as too commercially driven, somewhat untrustworthy and replaceable by an internet search (referred to as Google Law). We therefore need to reclaim our own sense of professionalism. 

As a profession, we have a strong understanding of the importance of honesty, integrity and professional conduct. We understand the rule of law is the bedrock of our democracy, which is built on a commitment to justice, ethics and integrity. It is unfortunate for our profession that the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants has diluted that message, but we need to remind ourselves and others that this should be put into a broader perspective with only 39 out of 23,000 solicitors practising in Victoria receiving a determination or reprimand by the regulator in 2018–19.

Among our members, there is a sense that the value of our work is underestimated by the community. We should feel confident that our experience, wisdom, knowledge and professionalism set us apart from non-legally trained consultants and advisers, not to mention internet search engines. Those seeking legal help are often overwhelmed by the volume of information at their fingertips, but understandably struggle to translate that complex information into practical and appropriate responses and solutions to their problems. As professionals in a privileged position of knowledge and understanding, we have an obligation to be our clients’ trusted advisers and to do our best to understand their lives, needs and objectives so that we can draw on our wisdom (while always considering our duty to the Court) to advise and act in their best interests, a role that is crucial to the proper administration of justice. This experience, wisdom and value should not be underestimated, but it often is. 

Much has been written about the advancement of technology and artificial intelligence and the impact on the legal profession. Information technology will play a large part in how legal services are delivered in the future. However, if we remain steadfast in our commitment to professionalism, ethics and integrity, the introduction of new technologies is an opportunity rather than a threat. It is an undeniable reality that our clients can now access legal documents and information quickly and cheaply online, but this also provides us with an opportunity and an obligation as qualified lawyers to demonstrate our professionalism by consistently providing insightful, wise and ethical advice and services tailored to the particular needs of our clients and the community. Now is the time to renew our sense of purpose and commitment to professionalism and to seek out opportunities to remind our clients, the community and, most importantly, ourselves of the value, wisdom and experience we bring to our practices every day. 

April LIJ publishes Australian Institute of Judicial Administration executive director Professor Greg Reinhardt’s last Supreme Court judgments column. His first column, which he faxed in, was in the October 1993 LIJ. We’d like to thank Professor Reinhardt for his long and valuable contribution, and wish him well in his retirement. ■

Sam Pandya

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