Queensland Law Society

QLS Legal Profession Dinner and Awards

Friday 15 March, Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre 

QLS President, opening address

Why?

It is the most asked question I get in taking up this esteemed role for a second time.

Why?

Because I believe.

I believe in the greater good.

I believe in the value of public service.

I believe in the value of our profession to our community.

Why Is one of the questions people often ask of lawyers – why did they become a lawyer? The boiler plate retort is usually, the money. Well we all know that simply isn’t the case, because truth be told, in our teenage hearts most of us believed in something greater than our own self-interest, and around my childhood home, silver spoons were only seen on TV, even then only in black and white.   In truth, the essence of the choice to study law – and progress to becoming a fully qualified practising lawyer, is belief and action.

Belief that the world can be better, that the voiceless can have a voice and the downtrodden a champion from the bullies. Sometimes it’s as simple as a belief that we can make a positive difference to the lives of others. However, a belief without a plan is just a wish.

People join organisations for many reasons, some cynics might say, to fill a CV, to keep a seat warm, to get a few perks. That is not me, my CV is full, I am never in one place long enough to warm the seat and well for the perks – a city car park,  if I needed a car park near the CBD, that is what the M1 is for, isn’t it?

My reason is simply this – belief.  It is belief and a plan for a better profession, that has me here tonight, serving a second term as President. I believe in the mission of solicitors, the mission of QLS: good law, good lawyers for the public good. I believe in the good of serving our members, reflecting their values and nurturing, enabling that belief each of you have, the spark that enables you to serve the public and the rule of law, whatever your practice area.

To explore the origin of that belief, I am going to tell you an amazing but true story, as to where I think my belief and my plan began.

My great, great, great grandfather was a man named Henry Baylis, and –perhaps ironically, given my professional life as a defence lawyer – he was the first Police Magistrate of Wagga Wagga (indeed the Main Street is named after him). One day during winter in 1863, according to the folklore passed from generation to generation in my family, he was riding his horse Pathfinder out to a local court. In those days judges had to ride their horse whilst on circuit. On his way there, he had a definitive encounter with a bushranger named Mad Dog Morgan, concerning a dispute of a financial nature: in short, my erstwhile ancestor had a wallet, and Mad Dog Morgan wanted it.

The arguments advanced on either side were not especially artful, with Mr Morgan suggesting the question to be determined was whether Baylis preferred to possess his money or his life, and my great great, great, grandfather responding with a short, non-Latin phrase which essentially meant get lost.

Morgan’s argument in response was advanced not so much by reason as by gunpowder. That gunpowder was enough to advance an ounce-and-a-half of lead through Baylis’ riding coat, overcoat, undercoat, shirt, undershirt, singlet and a reasonable amount of his body.

It was not enough, however, to kill Baylis, nor persuade him to hand over his wallet. This prompted a comment from Morgan that Baylis was either the bravest man he had ever met, or the most stupid.

He was certainly determined. After he recovered from his wound, Police Magistrate Baylis then lead a search party to find Mad Dog Morgan, and he did! Unfortunately, after being unable to provide Mad Dog natural justice, the presumption of innocence, an enquiry into his mental faculties, or fitness to plead, or his capacity to understand legal process, instruct counsel, or withstand the rigours of a fair trial, or indeed any trial at all, Police Magistrate Baylis took the efficient way, and had him shot. There was no judicial commission in those days. For his “bravery” he was eventually awarded a Gold Medal from the Colony of NSW for his actions in suppressing bush ranging. As a postscript, Baylis had the slug enclosed in a gold casket which he wore suspended from his watch chain for the rest of his long life, as a lucky charm. It wasn’t handed down in the estate, though it can be viewed at the Riverina Museum.

I may share Magistrate Baylis’ genes for upholding the law, but you will be pleased to know that I believe his methods, whilst certainly cheaper and quicker than a trial, do not equate with justice as I understand it. I should be thankful though, for his ways at least, for the mere fact that I am here today because Mad Dog Morgan was a bad shot, and Baylis impenetrable, at least to the bullet.

It is possible that he has passed one of his qualities down to me, (no doubt my DNA can be checked) and that it has led to my decision to do a second stint as President.

Nevertheless I think I do share with him, and with my many predecessors, respect for the rule of law and a belief that serving is of benefit to not just the profession but society itself.

When we gather, as we have here tonight, we are fostering relationships that make justice work smoothly and fairly; we are facilitating true collaboration that allows us to serve our clients and our community in the most effective and just ways.

It is about getting to know our colleagues, about making sure that we have those connections that allow the open progressive and respectful communication that is fundamental to our work. Words like collaboration and collegiality are like beliefs, it’s not enough to say simply them, they must be genuinely lived, or at least like Mad Dog Morgan, we take a good shot at them.

And just as I believe in the Law Society supporting our profession, I know that I did not get here on my own. I know that I am not doing this role on my own. While silver spoons might still be in short supply in my house, support is in abundance.