Queensland Law Society

President's Update

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These are exciting times for women in law, with the announcement that Victoria’s Chief Justice Marilyn Warren will be succeeded by another woman, Justice Anne Ferguson.

It is also particularly exciting that Victoria continues to recognise the extraordinary pool of talent available from the ranks of that state’s solicitors. Before being appointed to the Supreme Court in 2010, Justice Ferguson was a partner at Allens Arthur Robinson, working in insolvency and commercial litigation, and appearing in such high-profile cases as the collapses of Opes Prime and the Pyramid Building Society.

On behalf of Queensland solicitors, I congratulate Justice Ferguson on her appointment, and the Victorian Government on its forward-thinking approach.

This appointment underlines the growing prominence of women in senior judicial roles, with three state Chief Justices (Chief Justice Warren/Ferguson, Queensland Chief Justice Catherine Holmes and ACT Chief Justice Helen Murrell), along with those in national roles such as High Court Chief Justice Susan Keifel and Family Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant.

And here we have recently seen the notable appointment of former solicitor Justice Ann Lyons as Senior Judge Administrator to the Supreme Court.

Exciting times, indeed, and no doubt a source of inspiration to many of the women practising or studying law today.

Speaking of law students, a number of law schools organise events which allow students to mingle with experienced, practising members of the profession.

These networking events allow practitioners a glimpse of current legal education trends, and perhaps bring back a few memories of their student days. Students benefit greatly, being able to ask the tough questions about actual legal practice and receiving realistic, accurate answers.

Last Wednesday I attended one of these networking events, organised by the Griffith University Law School at the Hilton Surfers Paradise Hotel.

I was grateful for the opportunity to talk to the students, answer some of their questions, and hopefully alleviate some of their fears.

Though they have some concerns similar to those from my law student days – Will I be able to find a good job? – there are other, newer issues, not the least of which is: Will a machine take my job?

As I noted here two weeks ago, it is important for all of us to remember that our true value as solicitors is in being trusted advisors. What distinguishes us is our highly sensitive ability to synthesise and apply the information we may gather with technology in a way that is appropriate to the people we serve.

I met with more students on Monday, this time at the Law Lines workshop organised by the Indigenous Lawyers Association of Queensland and held at Lander & Rogers’ Brisbane office.

As well as explaining the benefits afforded by QLS membership, I was keen to talk to the students about the under-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the legal profession. I said that last year some 66 Queensland practitioners identified as Indigenous and that we were very keen to encourage and support more Indigenous people in entering the profession.

The major step I would like to see is true Indigenous representation within the judiciary. Of the 90 or so magistrates in Queensland, just a handful – five, I am told – can claim an Indigenous heritage. For the judges of the District Court and Supreme Court, there is zero Indigenous representation, to the best of my knowledge.

While appointments to the judiciary should always be based on merit, more thought needs to be given to broadening the pool from which candidates are drawn and the process of appointments, ensuring that judicial and other similar appointments reflects the diverse skill sets, composition and makeup of our society. Only in this way can our justice system be truly representative of the people it serves.

I also spoke about the launch of our QLS Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) on 5 July, and noted that there are now more than 80 organisations in Queensland implementing RAPs.

In the legal profession, the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, Caxton Legal Centre, Queensland Association of Independent Legal Services, the Bar Association of Queensland and Legal Aid Queensland are among those with a RAP. There are also several law firms which have adopted a RAP or taken part in diversity initiatives.

In line with the objectives of our RAP, we are now encouraging law firms to reflect and consider what initiatives they can undertake to play their part in reconciliation, particularly in assisting Indigenous legal students.

We are exploring opportunities for Indigenous legal students through internships and an annual scholarship. While we are still in the planning stages, we will be providing updates on our activities at qls.com.au.

Christine Smyth

QLS president