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Challenging Times Ahead

Challenging Times Ahead

By Reynah Tang

The picture painted of the Victorian legal profession by speakers at the 2013 Annual Conference of Council earlier this week identified both challenges and opportunities ahead. The overarching theme of the conference ran parallel with my presidential theme – embracing change and diversity in a dynamic and evolving legal profession. Experts spoke to those themes and the result was a great deal of food for thought - and action. INNOVATION IN PRACTICE Professor George Beaton of Beaton Consulting spoke of the changed legal environment in Australia and gave fair warning that lawyers faced a competitive and challenging future as clients had more legal knowledge thanks to the internet, and less legal spend thanks to the GFC. Innovative firms like Advent Legal, he said, were snagging market share, as was private equity, which had identified legal services as a lucrative investment due to the opportunity to cut costs and improve efficiencies. With images of Gordon Gekko in mind, new models of legal practice, with all the associated new technologies, must be understood and embraced by lawyers. In a session which asked, ‘Do small firms need to change to survive?’, Andrew Komesaroff, director of Komesaroff Legal Pty Ltd outlined his business model of hiring experienced lawyers with specialised skill sets on an as-needs basis and teaming up in joint venture style with law firms (large, medium and small) to deliver great outcomes for clients. Clearly, this is the sort of outside the box thinking that is needed to forge a successful future. ASIAN CENTURY IS HERE In the session on ‘Australia in the Asian Century: How to maximize opportunities in the legal and professional services sector’, our panel identified opportunity for practitioners in and from Asia, which is predicted to become the world’s economic powerhouse over coming decades. As we enter the Asian Century, medium to large firms are benefitting by going into Asia, but Kelvin Tam from Hunt & Hunt confirmed small firms also stand to gain from Asian immigration and investment. Put simply, people coming from Asia to Australia to live and to do business need local legal advice. The LIV is working at encouraging the development of an Asian-ready profession through professional exchanges and the expansion of Asian legal and language studies as part of law degrees. The LIV is also extending its diversity and inclusion initiatives to address cultural diversity. There is not much, or enough, cultural diversity in the senior ranks of the Victorian legal profession. DIVERSITY IS GOOD FOR BUSINESS Diversity was a major topic at the conference. I have talked here briefly about the need for cultural diversity in the profession, but it goes much further than that. Diversity is no longer shorthand for inclusion of women. Nowadays, it means inclusion of everybody, whatever your attributes. Gender, culture, sexual orientation and age all come under the diversity umbrella. The key message from diversity experts who spoke at the conference was this; diversity is good for business. Diversity, or a lack of it, is reflected in the bottom line and businesses ignore it at their peril. As Katie Spearritt from Diversity Partners observed, the starting point is to identify our own implicit biases and then take steps to address them. OPPOSITION POSITION & LOBBYING INSIGHTS The conference also examined broader justice system issues via past and present public figures. Shadow Attorney-General Martin Pakula spoke about the Opposition’s plans for law and order in a future in office. Former Attorney General Rob Hulls gave a revealing talk on how to lobby government for change. His words resonated as we pursue more funding from the State and Federal governments to address the Victorian legal aid crisis. LET’S GET TALKING I encourage conference attendees to communicate the outcomes of the conference to their respective Sections, Law Associations and the wider legal community so that the ideas and key learnings can be widely disseminated throughout the membership. We have a series of videos from the conference for interested members to watch. Eight videos of about ten minutes duration give a snapshot of selected sessions including my welcome speech, and the sessions on diversity and Australia in the Asian Century. They will give you a taste of what was said by speakers and panel members and are well worth watching. They can be accessed on the LIV website and the LIV YouTube channel later today. I welcome the views of our wider membership on the issues outlined above. What do you see as the key challenges and opportunities facing the profession?

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