President’s Report – December 2017
In February, I outlined some of the matters on which the Law Society planned to focus this year. In this my final column, I provide an overview of how those matters have progressed so far. In doing so, I will once again refer to the core objects of the Society adopted in 1927, and still reflected in its Constitution today, namely:Advancing the interests of the legal profession;
- Promoting good practice and curbing malpractice;
- Advancing legal education;
- Promoting the administration of justice and the development and improvement of the law; and
- Encouraging collegiality.
Interests of the legal profession
Future of the legal profession
In my first report, I suggested that artificial intelligence was a challenge of a kind barely conceivable in the minds of lawyers practising nearly a century ago. I also foreshadowed that a particular manifestation of that challenge, namely the potential impact of the technology on practical opportunities for skills development in emerging and future lawyers, would be the subject of discussion with managing partners of law firms. The discussion occurred as part of a forum on artificial intelligence hosted by the Society during Law Week1.
The forum followed the adoption by Council, in late February, of a new strategic directions plan. Under the plan, the strategic objectives of the Society were re-set to include the provision of both leadership on the future of the profession as well as resources and information on related issues for the benefit of members. Consistent with those objectives, a Futures Reference Group, comprising both internal and external members, was established to guide the Society’s work in this area.
A framework for the delivery of future-themed offerings was developed, and the generation of an increasing number of presentations, papers and Brief articles on such topics ensued. A highlight was the keynote address delivered at the Law Week Breakfast by Katie Miller, 2015 President of the Law Institute of Victoria, on Legal traditions in an age of disruption: How do lawyers decide what to keep and what to relinquish?
In addition, delivery of seminars on future-focused subjects is now a regular part of the Society’s CPD programme. Guidelines on the unbundling of legal services have been published, while the November edition of Brief was devoted largely to subjects directly relevant to the future of the profession. An extensive paper on The Future of the Legal Profession is now available.
I have every confidence that the Society will continue providing both leadership and guidance to our members on important matters associated with the future of the profession in 2018.
Performance of legal work by non-practitioners
In February, the spectre of non-practitioners performing legal work was raised and a comprehensive study into the topic was foreshadowed.
The study was duly conducted, and a position paper entitled People Unlawfully Engaging in Legal Work: Protecting the Community was published in August. As noted in my November electronic Update, the Attorney General, the Honourable John Quigley MLA, recently wrote to the Society to thank us for providing a copy of the position paper. It is understood that consideration is being given to the Society’s proposals for legislative reform contained within the paper.
This year also saw a comprehensive review of the Society’s Constitution, with a view to ensuring conformity with the requirements of the Associations Incorporation Act 2015 (WA). As part of
the review, scope for further refinements to the Constitution consistent with contemporary notions of good corporate governance was also identified.
In August, feedback was sought from members regarding a series of possible constitutional amendments developed as part of the review. Following completion of that process, the Society’s Council approved a final set of proposed amendments in October.
The amendments were unanimously approved by members of the Society at its annual general meeting on 9 November 2017.
In the February edition of Brief, I mentioned the Legal Profession Uniform Law.
National harmonisation of key aspects relating to regulation of the legal profession has remained high on the Society’s agenda this year. In 2014, the Society had resolved to recommend to the then Attorney General, subject to qualifications, the adoption of the Legal Profession Uniform Law 2014, which subsequently came into force in New South Wales and Victoria on 1 July 2015.
Following the election of a new State Government in March 2017, the Society commenced steps to progress its recommendation. As noted previously, the Society has been actively engaged with both State Government and other stakeholders in an effort to achieve an outcome consistent with the Society’s position.
The Society is aware that the State Government is in discussions with the Legal Services Commission and has had contact with the governments of New South Wales and Victoria.
The Society is encouraged by the work which has been undertaken so far, and it is optimistic that further progress will be made in 2018.
The Society was again pleased to provide support to the legal profession of Western Australia through its comprehensive Continuing Professional Development programme. In February I indicated that the Society would continue to explore even greater flexibility in, and accessibility to, its CPD programme for the benefit of its members. This year, the Society included webinars as part of a multi-channel approach to legal education.
These are offered in addition to seminar style presentations at the Society, workshops, and recorded seminars accessible through our eLearning portal.
In addition, during the second half of 2017, a comprehensive external review of the Society’s CPD programme was undertaken. The results of that review, and the recommendations arising from it, will be considered by Council later this month at its final meeting for 2017.
Law Summer School was, of course, a highlight of 2017. Our flagship legal education conference will return on Friday, 23 February 2018, with an array of eminent local, national and international speakers scheduled to present. Please visit lawsocietywa.asn.au/event/lawsummer- school-2018 to book your place.
Administration of justice and law reform
Throughout the year, the Society has continued to promote both the administration of justice and law reform. Through its extensive committee structure, the Society dealt with references for comment from outside organisations, made submissions and initiated comment on various legal and practice issues including proposals for improvement of the law. Much of the Society’s work in these respects has been chronicled elsewhere2.
As always, the Society has during 2017 also continued to engage with the media on legal and justice-related topics of interest or concern where appropriate. On several occasions this year members of the Society’s Executive have also met, both formally and informally, with senior members of the judiciary and representatives of the courts, Commonwealth and State ministers, senior government officers and other stakeholders to discuss matters of significance to the administration of justice.
The Society’s premier social event for 2017 was its 90th Anniversary cocktail party held on Thursday, 15 June, 90 years to the day after the Society was founded by a small group of practitioners at a meeting in the old Supreme Court library.
More than 300 members and other special guests attended Perth Town Hall to participate in the festivities. A number of story boards showing a selection of significant historical milestones, and screens depicting a series of photos relevant to the Society’s 90 year history, were on display at the event. None of the achievements presented would have been possible without the support of the Society’s members, the dedication of its councillors, committee members and staff.
90th Anniversary publication
In February it was announced that the Society would produce a commemorative publication, authored by professional historian Dr Catherine May, to mark the Society’s 90th anniversary. I am delighted to confirm that this work has now been completed after many months of dedicated research by Dr May. The Society is grateful both to Dr May and to the many contributors who assisted her with interviews, information and material. I also express my special thanks to the Society’s Andrew MacNiven for the considerable amount of time which he devoted to assisting with research and in bringing the publication to finality.
The publication was launched officially at the Society’s End of Year Celebration on 7 December 2017, and will available for download from the Society’s website shortly thereafter.
Finally, it remains for me to express some brief words of gratitude. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve as President in what has been a both a busy and interesting year. I thank members of the Society, my Executive, members of Council, and the convenors and members of the Society’s many committees, for their collegiality and commitment, and the Society’s general managers and members of staff for their dedication. I express my thanks, in particular, to Hayley Cormann, David Price and Sue Langmair for their sage advice and unqualified support throughout the year (and to Gerda Musikanth for her tolerance and endurance). I wish everyone an enjoyable and restful holiday season, and every success in 2018.
1 A report on the forum appears in the July edition of Brief.
2 See for example page 15 of, and the committee reports contained within, the Society’s annual report for 2016/2017: https://www.lawsocietywa.asn.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Law-Society-Annual-Report-2016-17_financials.pdf.