President’s Report – February
In this President’s report, I would like to identify a few of the matters which the Society will be focused on this year. Before doing so, I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor Elizabeth Needham and express the Society’s gratitude for her dedication, hard work and tireless commitment throughout her term.
I also wish to thank Jason McLaurin – both for remaining at the helm of Brief for a second year and also for keeping us all engaged in 2016 with his informative (and highly entertaining) editorials.
90th ANNIVERSARY OF THE LAW SOCIETY
2017 marks the Society’s 90th anniversary.
The Society’s history dates back to 15 June 1927, when about 30 legal practitioners gathered for a meeting in the Supreme Court library presided over by the Master of the Supreme Court, Mr Thomas Frederick Davies.
A motion that “an Association of Legal Practitioners of Western Australia be formed” was moved by Mr Thomas Davy (later Attorney-General of Western Australia). The motion was seconded by Mr Michael Lavan. After a short discussion in which Mr Kott, Mr Nicholson and others joined, the motion was put and carried unanimously.
Sir Walter James KC, a former Premier and Attorney-General of Western Australia, was elected as the Society’s first President at the Society’s first annual general meeting on 3 October 1927ˆ̂1. By then, the Society had 75 town and 21 country members.
While their precise formulation has changed since first adopted 1927, the Society’s core objects have remained consistent over the past nine decades. Distilled to their essence, they are: 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.
These objects reflect the pillars on which the Society has rested since 1927. And while some objects occasionally require more attention than others, a regular and sustained focus on each is essential to ensure that the Society remains both effective and relevant.
INTERESTS OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION
Not all challenges confronting the profession in 2017 are markedly-different from those with which the Society has grappled intermittently in past decades. However, there are some which would have been barely conceivable in the minds of lawyers practising nearly a century ago.
Artificial intelligence is one of a number of technological advances discussed in a book co-authored by one of the participants at last year’s Law Summer Schoolˆ̂2, Professor Richard Susskind OBEˆ̂3. In the book, it is observed that a key category among a variety of emerging systems which are systematizing, and sometimes changing, the way lawyers work, is the computerised production of “high-quality documents after straightforward interactive consultations with users” and that “intelligent search systems can now outperform junior lawyers and paralegals in reviewing large sets of documents and selecting the most relevant.”ˆ̂4
The kinds of technology just described are already being deployed by some leading Australian law firms. While the technology is intended to supplement rather than supplant, and will doubtless bring many benefits both for practitioners and their clients, there seems to be at least some force in a prediction that the need for junior lawyers and paralegals to perform research tasks may be reduced, “exacerbating the existing oversupply of law graduates, and reducing the availability of research and procedural work that young lawyers have traditionally ‘cut their teeth’ on”ˆ̂5. The prediction gives rise to obvious challenges. Not least is a possible significant skills deficit manifesting itself in emerging and future lawyers who, because of technological advances, may well be deprived of sufficient practical opportunities to develop (or refine) their analytical skills, expertise and judgment to levels necessary for the performance of competent professional work.
I will be discussing this important topic in meetings with the managing partners of various law firms in early 2017. It is hoped that these and further discussions will provide impetus for the development of a cohesive strategy for the benefit of the profession as a whole in the not too distant future.
Performance of legal work by non-practitioners
This has been an intermittent source of irritation (and occasionally anxiety) at various times in our history. While the profession has nevertheless survived largely intact, it is for good reason that the Legal Profession Act 2008 (WA) makes clear who may perform legal work and who may notˆ̂6. The relevant provisions exist to protect the public interest in the proper administration of justice by ensuring that legal work is carried out only by those who are properly qualified, and to protect consumers by ensuring that persons carrying out legal work are entitled, to do soˆ̂7.
As regulator, it is the function of the Legal Practice Board to investigate complaints and, if required, prosecute alleged breaches. The Board is actively engaged in these matters. But that is not to say that a healthy degree of vigilance by the Society itself would be misplaced. The Society’s ethics committee has been tasked with undertaking a comprehensive study into this area during the first half of 2017 with a view to a report being prepared for consideration by Council.
Any members wishing to provide input are encouraged to email the Society’s General Manager – Advocacy, Mary Woodford, at email@example.com.
The Society’s Council is ultimately responsible for overseeing the operations of the Society and for effective leadership.
In 1927, the Society was governed by a Council comprising 12 members. It had no committees and was assisted by one employee. Nowadays, Council comprises 20 members while the lion’s share of the Society’s work is performed by its 36 committees and 40 staff members.
A comprehensive review of the Society’s constitution has been commenced with a view to ensuring conformity with the requirements of the Associations Incorporation Act 2015 (WA) (which came into force on 1 July 2016). As part of this review, active consideration is also being given to possible further refinements to the constitution that may accord with contemporary notions of good corporate governance. Any draft amendments resulting from the review will be put to members at the Society’s next annual general meeting in November 2017.
At the ceremonial sitting of the High Court held in Canberra in early December 2016 to mark his retirement, French CJ expressed the hope that “the vision of a uniform regulatory regime for the legal profession within Australia will ultimately be realised. We managed a standard gauge railway, we should be able to manage a standard regime for the legal professionals.”
Consistent with these sentiments, the Society remains conditionally supportive of the adoption of the Legal Profession Uniform Law as a law of Western Australia. While only two jurisdictionsˆ̂8 have so far signed-up to the Uniform Law, harmonized rules of professional conduct are significantly closer to realisation. There is already substantial consistency between rules that apply to the overwhelming majority of barristers practising at independent bars across Australia (including members of the WA Bar Association), while the Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules apply in all but three Australian jurisdictions. Regrettably, Western Australia remains one of the exceptionsˆ̂9.
Last year the Society wrote to the Attorney General, the Legal Practice Board and the WA Bar Association expressing its support for the adoption of the Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules in this State.
It is the Society’s firmly-held view that uniform professional conduct rules providing inter-jurisdictional consistency can only benefit consumers of legal services, the legal profession and regulators especially with interjurisdictional practices now being commonplace.
It is hoped that this outcome will be achieved without further undue delay. The Society will be seeking to progress this matter in 2017.
The Society has a long history both as a supporter and provider of legal education in Western Australia, dating back to as early as 1928 when two members of its Council were appointed to the fledgling Faculty of Law at the University of Western Australia.
As a leading provider of legal education in Western Australia, the Society provides regular high-quality and topically relevant CPD seminars developed by the profession for the profession. The Society’s CPD programme is delivered through a variety of options including face-to-face and online. The Society is keenly aware of the need to meet the demands of the profession. In 2017 the Society will continue to explore even greater flexibility in, and accessibility to, its CPD programme for the benefit of members.
Law Summer School 2017
In 1961, the Society was instrumental in facilitating the inaugural Law Summer School at the University of Western Australia, and this event has taken place in most years since then.
Law Summer School returns on Friday, 17 February 2017. Law Summer School 2017 explores Australia’s Place in the World. Please join me at The University Club to welcome our eminent speakers including Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, Attorney-General for Australia, the Hon Robert French AC, former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, the Hon Marilyn Warren AC, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, and the Hon Kim Beazley AC, a former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and former Australian Ambassador to the United States.
ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE
In the area of access to justice, the Society’s activities likewise commenced early, when in 1928 it agreed to assist in implementing WA’s first formalised system of legal aid under the Poor Persons’ Legal Assistance Act 1928 (WA). The Society played a pivotal role in connecting volunteer practitioners with applicants for many decades prior to the establishment of Legal Aid WA. The Society’s support for access to justice continued with the establishment of the Law Access Pro Bono Referral Scheme in 1992, now delivered by the Society’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Law Access Limited.
Promoting and facilitating access to justice, and speaking out when the proper administration of justice or Rule of Law appears under strain or threat, are non-negotiable features of the Society’s work.
As in the past, the Society will remain a strong advocate in these areas in 2017.
During its history the Society played a significant part in the area of legal reform, initiating over 70 discrete proposals for changes to the law between 1927 and 1960 alone.
These days the important function of monitoring and proposing any such changes falls to many of the Society’s committees. Those committees, comprised of volunteer members of the Society, cover a range of substantive law and other areas of interest. Most are policy committees that deal with references for comment from outside organisations and initiate comment on various legal and practice issues as and when they arise.
The important work of these committees will likewise continue throughout 2017.
The Society’s efforts in fulfilling this object have manifested themselves in a variety of ways over many decades.
From sherry parties and dinners at the Palace and Savoy Hotels to the development of etiquette and practice rules and guidelines, to sporting events and quiz nights, to High Court and gala dinners and YLC Balls (to name but a few).
In addition to continuing to provide a healthy environment for interaction through various member-based activities, the Society will once again host a number of networking and social events in 2017.
The Society’s significant milestone in 2017 will punctuate many of its activities with the highlight a 90th Anniversary Cocktail Party scheduled for Thursday, 15 June 2017 at the Perth Town Hall. Further details will be available in due course. In the meantime, please save the date.
Finally, I wish to repeat an offer extended at the conclusion of a recent annual general meeting. While the Society’s constitution reflects a number of objects, its strategic priorities remain simple: strong advocacy, high value services and organisational excellence.
If there is ever an occasion where it is felt the Society is not acting in a manner consistent with any of those priorities, we wish to know promptly. Similarly, should any member have a new idea which it is believed may assist the Society in doing its job better we need to know that too. So please contact me, any other member of Executive or the Society’s Chief Executive Officer, directly.
90th ANNIVERSARY: CALL FOR HISTORICAL MATERIALS
As part of its 90th anniversary, the Society is producing a commemorative publication, which will be authored by Dr Catherine May, a professional historian.
If you have any documents, materials or personal recollections pertaining to the history of the Society that you wish to submit for possible inclusion in the commemorative publication, please contact Dr May by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- To discover a series of selected milestones in the history of the Society, please visit lawsocietywa.asn.au/90th-anniversary.
- Technology and the Law – Looking into the future (26 February 2016).
- R and D Susskind, The Future of the Professions, Oxford University Press 2015.
- Ibid pp 68-69.
- S Leriche and M Stojanovic, The dawn of the artificially intelligent lawyer, Lawyers Weekly (21 March 2016).
- Part 3.
- s 11.
- New South Wales and Victoria.
- The Northern Territory and Tasmania are the others.