I assumed the role of President of the Law Council of Australia on 1 January 2013, taking over from Ms Catherine Gale who served as President of the Law Council in 2012.
The Law Council is Australia's peak legal body and represents the interests of approximately 60,000 lawyers nationwide. It is with immense pride that I assume the Presidency of the Law Council of Australia as it enters its 80th year. Taking on this position in this important anniversary year presents a surprising parallel to the time I became President of the Law Society of New South Wales - that event coincided with its 125th anniversary.
I believe that celebrating these milestones is most important.
Many of you will be aware that the road to President of the Law Council of Australia is a long one and, in preparation for my Presidential term, I reflected upon what it means to be President.
Fundamentally the role of the President is to represent the interests of the Australian legal profession both nationally and internationally. However, the role is also about being a "thought leader" - to present new ideas and challenge the way in which we think about the law, its role in and impact on society against a backdrop of strong rule of law principles.
Over the next 12 months, I would like to see the Law Council work harder to demonstrate its relevance to all legal practitioners, irrespective of where they practise or the type of practice in which they operate. Through a range of mechanisms, I will seek to ensure the profile of the Law Council is enhanced to better identify its relevance to practitioners throughout Australia and internationally. The Law Council will speak with one voice for the common good of the profession and the broader Australian community.
The President's role also extends to working with the Law Council to achieve the objectives set out in its Corporate Plan and International Strategy. When President, while one is essentially a custodian of the Law Council, it does provide scope for bringing individuality to the role.
I would now like to highlight what I have identified as being priority areas for the Law Council in 2013.
Access to Justice
Access to Justice will continue to be a key issue for the Law Council. There is a real problem of working Australians not having an appropriate understanding of the Australian legal system or how to access it. I will continue to support the Law Council's Access to Justice Committee and Family Law Sections in their work in this area and will continue to profile this issue to key Parliamentarians. The guiding principle in respect to this issue is that access to justice in Australia is a shared responsibility between federal, state and territory governments, the legal profession and the community. The Law Council will continue to advocate strongly for improved funding in this critically underfunded area.
It is also worth noting that a Federal election will be held in 2013 and the Law Council will be active in raising key policy issues of concern to the profession and the Australian community.
The federal election also presents an excellent platform on which to explore some of the legal impediments to doing business in Australia.
Human Rights Advocacy
The Law Council has a strong track record in policy development concerning national and international human rights issues. During 2012 Catherine Gale strongly advocated in relation to the issue of human trafficking and this is an issue which will be taken up by me in 2013.
This year I will be continuing to work on the implementation of the Law Council's International Strategy to advance the interests and views of the profession. In line with the strategy, I will be focussing on our region and will be building on the established relationships with key law associations.
This work will also involve continuing to promote Australia as a hub for international arbitration.
Specifically, in line with Strategic Objective 5 of the Law Council International Strategy, to promote and uphold the rule of law internationally, I will engage with the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Law Society with a view to sending a delegation to Port Moresby in the second quarter of 2013. The purpose of this mission will be to demonstrate support for the PNG Law Society and the rule of law and to meet with key law and justice government officials.
Law Council Sections
In 2013 I will also be seeking to strengthen and encourage the important position of the Sections within the Law Council. The Law Council of Australia has five specialist sections - Business Law, Family Law, Federal Litigation, International Law and Legal Practice.
The Sections administer a range of activities on behalf of the Law Council including the preparation of submissions, professional development events and networking opportunities. The Sections are the lifeblood of the Law Council and are absolutely vital to its ongoing success in the area of policy development and advocacy.
National attrition and re-engagement study
Why women leave the legal profession and do not re-engage is an important issue for the national profession and one the Law Council will explore and address in 2013. The Law Council will undertake a National Attrition and Re-engagement Study (NARS) to obtain quantitative data and confirm trends in progression and attrition rates of male and female lawyers and will also undertake research to examine the qualitative reasons behind these trends. The objective of conducting the NARS is to produce a report, including recommendations for legal associations and law practices, outlining practical measures which can be implemented to address the causes of high attrition rates among women lawyers, and re-engage women lawyers who have left the profession.
I am confident 2013 will be a challenging and rewarding year.
For me, law is a giving profession and one in which I am very proud to be a part. I look forward to serving the Australian legal profession this year.