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50 Years of LIV Membership - Luncheon 2016

50 Years of LIV Membership - Luncheon 2016

By Steven Sapountsis


Welcome to a lunch to celebrate 50 years of membership of the Law Institute of Victoria by  26 loyal members – 22 of whom are here and 4 who were unable to attend today.

First let me acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands on which we meet today, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nations. I offer my respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to anyone of Aboriginal or Torres Straits  Islander descent here today.

Not all that long ago, a fairly prominent silk, noted for championing humanitarian causes, questioned the sincerity and value of such an acknowledgement.

It is Law Institute policy to recognise Indigenous rights whenever possible, an important part of our Reconciliation  Action Plan, and it is our view that that acknowledgement can help keep the important issue of Indigenous rights in the public mind.

I welcome our very special guests – those members of the Law Institute of Victoria of 50 years standing. We will recognise each of you individually a little later.

To help celebrate this special occasion, we have present today past presidents:

  • Rowland Ball
  • Geoff Bowyer
  • John Cain
  • Alan Cornell
  • Ian Dunn
  • David Jones AM
  • Katie Miller
  • Jonathan Mott
  • Bill O’Shea
  • Frank Paton
  • Geoffrey Provis
  • Steven Stevens
  • (The recently immortalised) Bernard Teague AO; and
  • Mark Woods

For the record, the earliest serving of those past presidents is John Cain (1972-73) and the most recent is, of course, our immediate past president, Katie Miller. Also for the record, I note that Mark Woods was earlier this year made an Honorary Life Member of the Law Institute for services to the Law Institute and to the law more broadly. I also mention the relatively recent passing of past president David Denby, who surely would enjoyed today’s gathering, and the chance to tell a gag or two.

Please also let me also acknowledge the presence of the guests of our special guests, my fellow council members (Stuart Webb and Gerry Bean)  and our CEO, Nerida Wallace.

So, if you don’t have at least one of those specially mentioned people at your table, you are entitled to a refund of your admission price.

My remarks are now directed to our 50 year members, although  others can listen

Today’s gathering is not simply to celebrate you having lived for seventy odd years, but for being members of a special association of noble professionals for 50 years. I suspect that, like in life generally, that time has flashed by, and it may seem like only yesterday that you had just completed articles and were admitted to the profession, in about 1966 for most of you.

In any event, let me mention some of the happenings in the profession and concerning the Law Institute in 1966 to remind you – and then we can later discuss how much, or how little, things have changed:

  • In 1966, the Law Institute had 1,988 members -1,824 of them practising solicitors. Today, there are about 19,000 members, with about 12,500 practising solicitors  (out of about 17,500 practising certificate holders)  
  • For the calendar year ended 31 December 1965, the Law Institute’s net assets were 60,123 pounds ($120,000) (with the freehold, building valued at about 149,000 pounds ($258,000). Today, the Institute’s net assets are about $24M, with the freehold valued at about $14M.
  • Income was about 47,000 pounds ($94,000), with an operating surplus of about 3,400 pounds ($6,800). For the recently completed financial year, the Institute’s income was about $17M, and we ran a deficit of about $900,000.
  • The Institute’s staff then was “five male members and 13 ladies.” Today, it is about 120 – 93 female and 27 male.
  • In 1966, the remuneration for an articled clerk “should be $20 per week for the first six months of his period of service as an articled clerk and thereafter as agreed between himself and his master.”

What of other happenings?

Having regard to all the talk these days about technology in the law, and John McMillan, a progressive technofile might be particularly  interested in this,  it was interesting to read that the Law Institute was relatively quick to adopt what was then the revolutionary new technology of photocopying. Xerox had introduced the first easy to use photocopiers in 1959.

That first photocopier was installed in the library, which announced that it would charge members 15c a page – a hefty sum relative to say,  the salary of an articled clerk’s wages (and which  is now seems quite exorbitant now, when you can get your photocopying done at Officeworks for 10c a page).

The president that year (from May) was Mr John W Ball, who may be known to some  of you. On his retirement, Mr Ball said that he had expected a quiet year of consolidation, but instead he had to deal with a number of matters he described as being either “unusual” or “significant”. It was not an entirely unfruitful year however, and amongst the initiatives Mr Ball said he was proud to have overseen was the establishment of the Victoria Law Foundation to help tackle the “numerous problems of legal education and law reform”. This was made possible by funds from the surplus in the Solicitor’s Guarantee Fund, where assets had exceeded the then heady sum of $1.5 million.

But the Law Institute also had to contend with what was described as “considerable publicity” given to criticisms of the profession and of the Law Institute – overwhelmingly in the form of complaints resulting from dilatory action on the part of solicitors. Mr Ball and the Council exhorted members at the time to make a critical appraisal for themselves of their own practices and do everything in their power to improve the position of the profession in the eyes of the public.

As a sidenote, I note that John W Ball is still with us, but his youngest son, Richard, also a lawyer, sadly passed away this year.

The legal market was not as tight as it is at present. The Law Institute had been a significant agitator for the establishment of the Monash University Law School in 1963 (to take the overflow from the University of Melbourne) and the reestablishment of a four year articled clerk’s course.

It probably therefore behoved the Law Institute to help place articled clerks and that effort was reported in the LIJ as follows:

The Council has taken the responsibility of ensuring that all students seeking articles either for one year of four years are suitably placed. The Employment service therefore undertook the finding of articles for those unable to make arrangement for themselves. The task was difficult and time consuming but it is believed that in every case in which help was requested the Service was successful (p 102).

During 1966 there were a number of submissions for law reform, including those in relation to :

  • seeking to improve the facilities for interviewing prisoners at Pentridge Gaol
  •  the amendment of the Maintenance Act to make an order in favour of a child over 16 years of age
  • a statutory provision to indemnify a barrister or solicitor if they failed to disclose confidential information that their client had committed a felony
  • a Bill relating to the sale of own-your-own flats
  •  a submission to give greater control over directors of companies who act fraudulently or incompetently
  • a Bill to amend the Fences Act
  • numerous to dos with the Commissioner for State Revenue

The new president had given a lunchtime lecture “ Approach to costing” in which he identified one of the costing principles as: The charges claimed must be fair and reasonable having regard to all the circumstances  of the matter.

Under today’s legislation, costs must be:

No more than are fair and reasonable in all the circumstances  and that in particular are –
(a) proportionately and reasonably incurred;  and
(b) proportionate and reasonable in amount.

The LIJ was punctuated by the fine writing of Columb Brennan. One  of his pieces that caught my attention, and gives  a flavour of the legal world in 1966, was this report on the changes about who could serve on a  jury:

Women jurors are with us at last, and informed opinion seems to be that they are more than capable of coping with their duties. Most people would have read of the first case at Geelong last month in which the first women empanelled,  an attractive young hairdresser, questioned witnesses for 45 minutes…..

The 1966 Solicitors’ Prize was won by Mr William Herbert Aughterson who “conducts a one-name practice at Ringwood”. Mr Aughterson won the prestige of the prize -and $500 (about half a year’s salary for an articled clerk). Of course, Aughertsons is still going strong today.

While all that may have been interesting, there was something still more interesting to come.

Karin Derkley is a Law Institute media officer and a journalist for the Law Institute Journal who helped with this speech, and to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. Ms Derkley and I were both struck by what appears to be a great serendipity when we checked the 1966 edition of the Journal. That year also saw the retirement of the editor of the LIJ , Mr Eric Smith Vance, after five years at the helm of the journal. In an article titled “Then and Now”: A survey of fifty years of practice” in the April 1966 issue, Mr Vance wrote a history of the profession that is, rather delightfully, aimed specifically at you here in the room…

The opening paragraph reads:

“Amongst this year’s crop of young solicitors, some as old men invariably do, will in the year 2016, the fiftieth year of their  admission, look back and recall the conditions and scope of legal practice as it existed in the year 1966.”

Mr Vance then goes on to give something of a picture of the profession going back a further 50 years, to 1916 – when just about everyone studying law were men, where the offices were dusty and comfortless, where typewriters were the cutting edge in technology, and where there was no work in divorces, and travel was primarily by horse and buggy or steamers.

By 1966, Mr Vance writes, women had been accepted as solicitors in practice as a matter of course, legal offices in fancy City buildings were being furnished in palatial style, solicitors could phone London or fly there in a bit over 24 hours, and office systems were being mechanised.

“One may safely anticipate that changes as drastic and far reaching …remain to seen in the next century or less,” Mr Vance wrote in 1966.

We were so taken by that article, we have included a copy in your certificate pack for you to read at your leisure. For today, it is appropriate that you do what Mr Vance had anticipated you would do today that is, look back and recall how this good profession has sustained you, and you it. Today, we recognise your significant contribution to the profession and long standing support of the Law Institute.

We will have a formal presentation, at which you can say a few words if you like, after lunch. For now, please enjoy this well-deserved lunch.


LIV Media Department

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