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Political overhaul for LCA

Political overhaul for LCA

By Carolyn Ford


Under its 2016 president the LCA is bringing the interests of the country’s 65,000 lawyers into focus. It took a question from his solicitor son to crystallise a key issue facing the Law Council of Australia (LCA) for its 2016 president Stuart Clark. When the father of two sons in the law proudly announced he was to be 2016 president of the LCA, his elder son asked him what the council did. “I told him the LCA was the national voice of the profession. He said, ‘yes but what does it really do’,” Mr Clark recalled. “Lots of people didn’t know what we did. Government had stopped listening, we had fallen into a formulaic approach and we needed to change. We had a group of people who recognised that and we decided to change.” Fast forward to now and a more nimble LCA is noticeably engaging in furthering the interests of the country’s 65,000 lawyers – almost 19,000 of them in Victoria. “We are in the process of changing things and there are some exciting things happening.” First, the LCA engaged politically to help set the agenda on the law and the legal profession. Key staff were given parliamentary passes and encouraged to engage. “When parliament is sitting we’re up on the hill, we’re in the corridors, we’re in the coffee shop, the press gallery, in the ministers’ offices, with the politicians and their staff, the cross-benchers, the opposition . . . we talk to them about our agenda. We want them – and it’s starting to happen – to come to us and ask for our advice. We have the moral authority.” Next step was to develop a more influential media strategy. The days of “blasting” media organisations with “turgid” press releases which were “automatically binned” by most journalists, are over. “Since March we’ve had 240 media items [including 175 stories on legal aid during Law Week seen by an estimated eight million people who “think and read and vote”]. We moved people’s perceptions; we now have 81 per cent of people thinking legal aid is critical. It also shifted perceptions about lawyers. This year we’ve done 15 appearances before parliamentary committees, twice before royal commissions, lodged 120 written submissions, had meetings with ministers and shadow ministers. “We want to put the legal profession at a national level back on the table, we want to change the image of the profession in the public’s mind. We want to rebuild the respect the legal profession should have because of what we stand for and represent and do in the community.” But it was crucial that state law societies continued to support regional and suburban practitioners who were “on the frontline”, he said, adding the international landscape was also of critical importance to Australian lawyers who found themselves in a stagnant national marketplace. Mr Clark, a partner at Clayton Utz in Sydney, was speaking to LIV councillors and others on the eve of the quarterly Council of Law Societies (COLS) meeting in June in Melbourne. Mr Clark spoke about the LCA’s ‘to-do’ list for government, the federal election policy platform sent to every candidate, which prioritised the legal issues for government. They include: end the legal aid funding crisis address the scarcity of lawyers in rural, regional and remote areas amend anti-terror and money-laundering laws increase funding for federal courts and tribunals abolish mandatory sentencing set targets to cut rates of Indigenous imprisonment constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians achieve a national legal services market and profession create limited liability partnership business structure for law firms remove dual regulation of migration lawyers introduce justice impact statements for government regulatory and policy proposals. It’s a substantial list and Mr Clark acknowledges the LCA “has got our work cut out”. “We will be pursuing these goals persistently and persuasively this year and beyond. “Nobody’s given us any money yet,” Mr Clark said of legal aid funding, adding more post-election initiatives are planned. “We are going into phase two; our objective is to get into the next budget cycle. The campaign is not over.” Professional issues are a focus for the LCA too – female representation at senior levels, unconscious bias, pay parity, equitable briefing and defence of the judiciary and traditional rights and freedoms.

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