Queensland Law Society

Legal Profession Dinner 2017

Saturday 18 February, Royal International Convention Centre

President’s address

It is traditional for the President to address this dinner both as an introduction to themselves and to the year ahead at the Queensland Law Society. I begin then by thanking all of you for coming tonight to celebrate not on only a fantastic evening but to share the collegiality of a great profession.  Be you a politician, Judge, members of a tribunal, solicitor, barrister, legal professional or those who support us in our calling, friends and family. Welcome all.

Recep Erdo─čan became President of Turkey in 2014, following a lengthy stint as the country’s Prime Minister. One of his first acts was to arrest thousands of judges, three heads of the Turkish Bar Association, 245 lawyers-and counting.

In China, at least 240 lawyers were detained last year, approximately 30 of whom remain behind bars, and human rights lawyers are regular arrested and held without charge in Iran. Russia also makes a practice of detaining lawyers who oppose state interests, and in Burma even the families of lawyers are kidnapped to silence them.

Why do these despots work so vigorously to jail the legal profession? After all, are we not just guns for hire, loyal only to our pockets, happy to say anything to assuage our clients and advance our own interests?

One would have thought having a group of people expert in the law and willing to be facile mouthpieces would be a boon to these oppressors? Surely, rather than arresting us, dictators should be using us to advance their own evil ends?

We are not any of these things, and the oppressive regimes of the world know it.

Shakespeare identified the recipe for chaos as getting rid of all the lawyers, and those who would seek unqualified lordship over their fellow citizens, have taken the lesson to heart.

Unfortunately for the Fuhrers, Dear Leaders, and various other demagogues  of the world, lawyers are not purchasable puppets. Lawyers have the annoying habit of standing up for what’s right, defending the defenceless and insisting that the rule of law be observed in principle and in practice; that’s the sort of thing that really gets up the average dictator’s nose.

When we are admitted, we take an oath that we will, first and foremost, discharge our duty to the court and the administration of justice. We do what is right-not what is popular. Our commitment to this duty underpins society, and does no less than make Queensland workable, and the envy of other states.

At every turn, when rights are threatened or abused, you will find a lawyer standing between abusers and their victims. Whether it is a large movement, for human rights, or acting for a confused homeless person stuck in a watch house, for a crime he or she barely comprehends, a lawyer will stand up and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. Lawyers, and the legal profession, are at the very heart of society and are essential to its healthy function.

If I can use a musical analogy, the Queensland Law Society is part of a bigger symphony, with the first note being struck 90 years ago in 1927 by the first Society president RJ McNab.

Since that time, another 64 Presidents have woven their own melodies into the grand symphony, each one rising to perform their own aria, and then blending back in to the larger piece; each tune and tonal flourish – though different – is part of the larger harmony that is the Queensland Law Society.

Each president presents their own tempo, prefers their own instrument and calibrates their own tune, to advance our profession. While different, the sum of our voices are louder than any individual’s voice, ensuring our song is heard.

I will build on the incredible work of our prior 64 presidents. It is my vision, our concert will continue for many years into the future. It will blend in with the larger work that is our society, an overture or refrain that underpins our way of life. That is the role of the legal profession, to create the foundations on which civilisation rests, and to facilitate its harmony.

As the beat goes on I look forward to the challenges ahead.

Here I pause, to thank my predecessor, Bill Potts our 2016 president, for his powerful leadership. The tireless advocacy, generosity of time and intellect he dedicated to the issues affecting the profession and the community, was a ceaseless chorus that echoed in the minds of us all – not just in the media.

Bill’s ‘quiet confidence’ resulted in over 4000 media mentions, which he kicked off at the end of 2015 with the emotive and deeply sad Baden-Clay matter. Bill’s advocacy trumpeted the remarkable work of our Queensland Law Society and strengthened our position as the peak representative body for Queensland solicitors.

Bill’s work was the epitome of what I see as the true duty of solicitors-to underpin our society, our government, our businesses and our community. My role as President is to lead our members in this direction but also, most importantly, to facilitate the great work you each do every day.

My firm view is that the best way I can discharge that honourable obligation is to ensure that solicitors, our members, are at the heart of everything we do – that is the creed that drives me forward.

My vision is for Queensland Law Society to be a genuine membership organisation for all Queensland solicitors. And we need this, more now than ever before.

There are some jurisdictions throughout the world where the further you go from the capital city, the more the law represents the mythical ‘wild west’ in America, although perhaps these days in America the closer you get to the capital the wilder it is.

We are on the crest of a wave of technological and societal change which does not discriminate as to where and what law you practice. The challenge which faces us, is either to be swamped or to ride the wave. Standing at the shoreline telling the waves and tide to retreat will not work.  Whether you are sole practitioner in an isolated country town or a partner in a large city firm, technological advances are changing the legal landscape and the way in which we navigate it.

In embracing the future, however, we must not lose sight of the unique qualities which are at the core of our profession, our ethical obligation to provide advice, administer the law, and promote within this framework the rights of our clients, this is what bonds us. It is a responsibility which is both a heavy burden and a great privilege.

As Hillary Clinton said, in 'It Takes a Village' …“none of us can raise a family, build a business, heal a community or lift a country totally alone.”

As a profession, we are our not on own.

Collegiality – is key for a thriving profession. That means respecting the contributions of those who have gone before us, while nurturing the future, our early career lawyers.

I am and will continue to work tirelessly, to give all solicitors the opportunities and tools to foster collegial relationships, so that they may surf the wave of change.

I am well aware that I cannot fulfil my vision alone, and look forward to continuing to work with the QLS Council, our members, the wider profession and the QLS staff who will assist me in my mission as QLS president.

There will be challenges.

We stand at a time in history when the rule of law is subject to an unprecedented assault.

I opened by noting that despotic regimes of the world always focus on neutralising lawyers to achieve their nefarious ends. Unfortunately, that sort of thing is seeping into our own society. Only last year the courier mail had a full banner, front page, declaring that the law is an ass.

They were wrong.

In the United States, the land of the free, President Trump unashamedly seeks to influence the outcome of court proceedings in which he has an interest. Here, some are calling for Judges to be hauled before citizens’ panels to justify their decisions-presumably to receive six of the best and to be sacked should the explanation prove unpersuasive in the eyes of a few.

This way lies madness.

It represents nothing less than an attack on the rule of law.

If we do not stand up to this, if we will not fight for an independent judiciary and unbiased justice, then, who will?

I am resolutely confident that our profession has it in us, to rise to this challenge, to be the voice of reason, the voice of compassion and the voice of the voiceless.

The challenges we face are significant, but we do not scare easily, and that which we aspire to do, we will achieve.

This brings me to the point where I wish to acknowledge those who have helped me keep bonfires of my passion burning. Those who have stood behind me and beside me, through times of challenge and always reminded me to get up, dust myself off, and keep going. 

People come into your life for a reason; a season or a lifetime and each one of have enabled me to stand before you today.  So please indulge me while I thank them.  

My Family and friends

Thank you Andrew and my two beautiful boys, Ben and Alex Smyth who are now growing into gorgeous young men. I am grateful to all of you for your love, your support and unyielding faith in me.  You have taught me so much in life, and through you, I know the value of being true to myself.  Thank you.

A number of my village, who are my friends and family are here tonight. Belinda, Aunty Jen & Robert, Michele, Renee, Will and Roz. Together you have known me  through-out the many stages of my life and seen me walk in many different shoes.  Each of you have my humble thanks for helping me appreciate that in life’s journey, its always better to share the path with people who care and cherish you. Thank you.       

Work colleagues

I am delighted that my work colleagues from Robbins Watson – THE BEST LAW FIRM EVER – have made the long and slow crawl up the M1 to the Big Smoke.  One of the most difficult things for a President is being able to step out of a busy and thriving practice to give their efforts to the broader profession.  This can only be done with the understanding, encouragement and support of my Partners – Andrew Smyth and Marcus Woodfield along with our brilliant and amazing staff, who have picked up the baton and are delivering excellence in legal services to our many valued clients.  Thank you.

QLS staff

I want to specifically acknowledge the staff of the Queensland Law Society, not only those who are here tonight, working to make this evening’s function a success, but also those who have honoured me with their loyalty and commitment by purchasing a table to share this evening with me.  My Gun EA – Pierina Goodale deserves special mention for her tea and sympathy, not to mention her brilliant organisational skills.

Amelia Hodge and Matt Dunn

Many of you will have recently seen the announcement of the resignation, of Amelia Hodge as our CEO. I want to specifically acknowledge the hard work and dedication that Amelia brought to the Queensland Law Society – both as a change agent and as a leader.  Thank you very much Amelia.

Matt Dunn who has already graced us with his booming voice and unmistakable hairstyle, has been appointed the acting CEO. Matt, you have provided me and many former presidents with wise counsel and unwavering dedication, to ensure the voice of the Queensland Law Society is heard best and most effectively in its engagement with parliament, the judiciary, the broader profession and of course the community.

QLS Councillors

I want to acknowledge also the commitment of the Councillors of the Queensland Law Society, ensuring the leadership of our organisation remains in safe and committed hands. It is a rare honour to be your leader.

Thank you to our society’s engine room – the 36 policy committees and working groups who give so freely of their valuable time to achieve good law.   Good lawyers and good law are more than a mantra, they are, the very lifeblood of our organisation.

Politicians

The peak of our liberal democracy is of course Parliament and I acknowledge the presence of the honourable attorney General Yvette Dath and the Shadow Attorney General Ian Walker, for their support of and consultation with our society.  In parliament, you must contend as warriors for the cause of the people, but here tonight we meet and drink as friends.  Thank you.

Judiciary

The primary ethical duty of every lawyer lies to the court and to administration of Justice according to law. Accordingly, I acknowledge the presence of The Honourable President Margaret McMurdo, Justice McMurdo, Justice Greenwood, Justice Thomas, Chief Judge Kerry Obrien, Judge Ian Dearden, The Chief Magistrate, Judge Ray Rinaudo, Deputy Chief Magistrates Leanne Oshea and Terry Gardiner, Magistrate Dowse, and of course the Senior Members and members of QCAT who have joined together with us tonight mark this auspicious occasion.

Queensland Bar and Law Council of Australia

I wish to thank the Queensland Bar for their support, in particular President Christopher Hughes.

Also present here with us tonight, the President of the Law Council of Australia, Fiona McCleod QC and their CEO Mr Johnathon Smithers.  Thank you for coming a long distance to share this evening with us. 

Former presidents

I welcome and express gratitude for the support of a number of former QLS presidents here with us tonight. Greg Vickery, Peter Eardly, Megan Mahon, Bruce Doyle, Michael Fitzgerald, Peter Carne and of course the irrepressible Bill Potts.

Sponsors

Events such as these are not possible without your generous support and attendance but I also wish to acknowledge our generous sponsors BMW.

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I invite you to Join me in reaching for the stars this year and throughout our careers, we will see our profession grow from strength to strength.

Thank you