President’s Report – June
90th anniversary of the Law Society
90 years ago this month, the Law Society of Western Australia was established.
On 15 June 1927, a group of about 30 practitioners gathered in the old library of the Supreme Court of Western Australia. The meeting was convened by former Premier and Attorney General of Western Australia Sir Walter James KC^1.
Among those present at the meeting were some of the leading figures in the profession of the day. They included Thomas (Tad) Davy, a brilliant young lawyer and future Attorney General, and Michael Lavan, a prominent local lawyer and future King’s Counsel, who had completed a Law Degree at Trinity College, Dublin having been admitted to the Bar in Western Australia at the age of 24, in 1897^2.
Thomas Frederick Davies, Master of the Supreme Court, presided over the 15 June meeting. It was Thomas Davy who moved that “an Association of Legal Practitioners of Western Australia be formed”. The motion was seconded by Mr Lavan and, “after a short discussion in which Messrs Kott, Nicholson and others joined”, the motion was put and carried unanimously^3.
A review of the Society’s minutes and annual reports over the past 90 years reveals both a sustained growth in membership and an ever-increasing expansion of activity^4. In the early years, much of the Society’s time was consumed by undertaking work associated with the Poor Persons’ Legal Assistance Act 1928, essentially the first formalised system of legal aid in Western Australia^5.
While neither the Society nor the rest of Western Australia was immune from the global turmoil accompanying the Second World War, it was during this difficult period that the Society, in 1940, first established a Law Reform Committee; a committee tasked with both making recommendations for law reform and assessing whether laws passing through the Parliament accorded with the interests of justice.
Today, the Society has over 30 active committees covering most facets of the law and comprising some of the leading practitioners in their respective fields. The combined expertise embodied within these committees, coupled with the indispensable policy work performed by them, is crucial in enabling the Society to fulfil its role as the voice of the legal profession in Western Australia.
A review of the Society’s history also reveals the ever-increasing importance of legal education. The long relationship between the Society and the faculties of law within the State is underscored by the fact that, as early as 1928, two members of the Society’s Council were appointed to the fledgling Faculty of Law at the University of Western Australia. In 1946, the Society established the Law Society War Commemoration Prize, awarded to the best student at the Barristers’ Board examination. In 1961, the first Law Summer School was held. The conference has been a fixture of the Perth legal calendar ever since (excluding a brief hiatus in the mid-1990s). The Society embraced the move to mandatory Continuing Professional Development (CPD) in 2008, significantly expanding its seminar programme to become a leading CPD provider.
The Society has undergone significant changes over the past 90 years. However, its core objects, and its commitment to those objects, remain unaltered: 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. It is the commitment to these objects that continues to make the Society the essential membership for the legal profession in Western Australia.
I hope you will join me in celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Society, on Thursday, 15 June at Perth Town Hall, corner of Hay Street and Barrack Street. The event promises to be an enjoyable evening of music, conversation, canapés and refreshments in historic surrounds, marking 90 years to the day since the Society was established.
The cocktail party is free for members, with non-members able to attend for $90. Thank you to our Principal Sponsor, JLT and Gold Sponsor, the University of Western Australia.
- Sir Walter was elected as the Society’s first President a few months later, on 3 October 1927, serving in that role until 1930.
- The significant contribution made to the Society by leading members of the profession has remained one of its enduring features over the past 90 years. Past members of the Society’s Council having included two future Governors of Western Australia, more than 70 future judges including a future Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia and three other High Court judges, five future Chief Justices of Western Australia, a future Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, several future Chief Judges of the District and Family Courts of Western Australia, serving and future Masters of the Supreme Court, Commonwealth and State Attorneys General and Solicitors General, to name but a few.
- More about the Society’s very early history may be found on page 18 of this edition of Brief.
- Some of the milestones in this regard may be found on pages 20-21.
- More about the Society’s history in providing access to justice may be found on pages 22-23.