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LIV Conference of Council 2015

LIV Conference of Council 2015

By Steven Sapountsis


Good morning.

My name is Steven Sapountsis. I am the president of the Law Institute of Victoria for 2016.

While I am a relatively recent arrival in Australia in absolute terms, unless we are of Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander descent, we are all recent arrivals.

So, first of all I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we meet; the Dja Dja Wurrung (pronounced  “Jar Jar Wurr-Ung”) people of the Kulin Nation. I offer my respects to their elders past and present.

So, first, I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land on which this event takes place

It is my pleasure as President to welcome you to the 2016 Law Institute annual Conference of Council.

Thank you for coming, as a guest or as a presenter.

I have received professional advice to never apologise in opening or welcoming remarks.

Please let me start with some explanations and thank yous.

Due to unavoidable circumstances the planning for this conference started relatively late. That it is held at all and with, I think, an excellent program, is due to eh extraordinary and exceptional work of Judy Culey and her new team especially Phoebe Jefferson and Sarah White. For those that know Jody, it would not be a surprise to hear that.

Jody, Phoebe and Sarah, together with Jess … are here today. Please ask them anything that you need to help you enjoy or share the conference.

I was unable to personally contact our presenters and moderators before they were approached by Jody’s team. That you for being so gracious in your acceptance to participate.

We were also thrown a little out of kilter, and I fear caused some of you some late change of plans by commencing the conference later than first anticipated. This was due to our accommodating a welcome to two new magistrates (belatedly scheduled for today), who had a significant connection to eh Law Institute.

Again, thank you for accommodating that change.

First of all I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we meet; the Dja Wurrung (pronounced  “Jar Jar Wurr-Ung”) people of the Kulin Nation. I offer my respects to their elders past and present.

In those circumstances, everyone who is here, or is attending later today is a special guest, and the attendance of all is greatly appreciated.

However, I would like to particularly acknowledge:

The Attorney General – the Honourable Martin Pakula
The Shadow Attorney-General – Mr John Pesutto
The Greens Spokesperson for Justice and Corrections - Ms Sue Pennicuik (pron: Penny-queue)
Fiona McLeod, the president-elect of the Law Council of Australia
Michael Brett-Young, the acting secretary- general of the Law Council of Australia
Dale Boucher, the Uniform Legal Services Regulation Commissioner
Michael McGarvie CEO of the Legal Services Board and Commissioner
The CEOs and Executive Directors of our interstate Law Societies and other legal associations from around the country, some of whom have travelled a long way to be here today
The presidents of the various country and suburban Victorian Law Associations
The Executive Director of the Victoria Law Foundation Joh Kirby
The CEO of the Victorian Bar Sarah Fregon
The CEO of the LIV Nerida Wallace
The LIV Section chairs and the president of the Young Lawyers Section
Members of the LIV Council
And the many others who are here with us today

So, onto the conference itself.

The conference title may be a little misleading. It is not only a conference of  Council , but also a conference for Council.

It serves the important tasks of

  • of informing the Law Institute generally, and the council in particular of the issues facing the profession (challenges or opportunities);
  • highlighting  matters of interest for the profession;
  • informing interest parties of the Law Institute plans; and
  • forecasting matters relevant to future plans    

It is reasonably clear that some of those issues will take require planning or implementation for beyond 2016 and may be more relevant to my successor presidents. If only for that reason, it is important that you have at least a passing acquaintanceship with our Executive:

  • Belinda Wilson
  • Sue Kee; and
  • Stuart Webb

who will be presidents in 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively

To help with those objectives, I think we have an interesting and broad line-up of presenters and topics today.

First, we will hear from representatives from each of the major political parties - the Attorney General Martin Pakula, the Shadow Attorney General John Pesutto, and the Greens spokesperson Sue Pennicuik (pron: Penny-queue).

It is rare to have members of the three major parties in one room outside of parliament, so we are privileged and grateful to have each of you here today.

Access to Justice, which we often discuss together with the rule of law is an extremely important issue to the Law Institute and to the community. We will be very interested in hearing what each have to say about their policy plans and proposals to ensure all Victorians get the legal representation they are entitled to. We will also seek to learn how we can better engage with the government – how can our voice be better heard about the issues we care about?

Next, we will hearing from a range of people who are working hard to ensure that our profession better reflects the diversity of the community it serves, or have identified particular circumstances impediments to achieving that goal .

Diversity will be discussed more broadly this year. Already, the new Australian of the Year, retired chief of army, David Morrison has been vocal in his commitment to advocating diversity. In his acceptance speech he talked about how some Australians are being held back because of their gender, religion, race, disability and sexuality.

Is that the case in the legal profession too?

There are some pointed statistics on this. For instance, 60 per cent of law graduates are women, but few of them get to be partners in law firms - just 11 per cent, compared to 23 per cent of male lawyers. The Bar is also still a tough place to get a job as a woman. There are half as many women barristers as there are male.

Currently only one third of judges in Victoria are women, although we do note that the Victorian Government brought in a 50 per cent quota for women in all courts in March last year, and that recent appointments are already doing much to redress the imbalance.

Then, what of cultural diversity?
In 2013 Reynah Tang became the first Law Institute of Asian heritage.
But while Asian-Australians make up around 10 per cent of the Australian population, but they make up just 1.6 per cent of barristers and less than 1 per cent of the judiciary. There are no senior or queen's counsel of Asian descent in Victoria.

Lawyers of Muslim heritage can also find it difficult to make headway in their careers, even though they are studying law and getting graduate jobs in high numbers. The president of the Muslim Legal Network Jazeer Nijamudeen will share with us today the challenges his members are facing in progressing in the law.

I think the community would be better served if we had, or made better use of, the talent and abilities of a wider and more diverse range of lawyers.

Last year the LIV partnered with the Asian Australian Lawyers Association because we believe it is important to support associations trying to make diversity happen rather than just spoken about. address those obstacles. This year we will be looking at similar relationships with, amongst others, the Muslim Legal Network and the Hellenic Australian Lawyers Association

This is all part of a profession that is in the process of transformation. The now common wisdom is that change is essential to survival, not just to prospering - as our immediate former president Katie Miller has been telling us for some time. It will be that issue that Katie and research consultant George Beaton will discuss in the session after lunch.

We then look at reputational issue for lawyers. Despite a long history of altruistic service, lawyers still have a reputation as being motivated primarily by financial gain.

Lawyers are great volunteers, and at any moment you will find them offering gratis their skills to helping those who can’t otherwise afford their services – through their pro bono work, through volunteering in community legal centres, or advocating for legal reform.

Today we will hear from a group of inspiring people who have made huge contributions as lawyers to the community, and the benefits to them as lawyers and people of such involvement

The second last session will look to see if there are any emerging patterns or issues from the introduction of the of the Legal Profession Uniform Law – and we are fortunate to have the absolute experts for that task.

We have left the best to last- a roundup of the issues and plans facing our interstate colleagues and, again we are fortunate to have most of our interstate law societies represented here today.

I have said enough – or too much.

Please join me in welcoming our vice-president, Sue Kee to introduce and moderate our first session.

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