Queensland Law Society

President's update

President's Update

I write this fresh from another successful and engaging Gold Coast Symposium, which was held on 7 June. The event was very well attended and a big reason for that was the excellent line-up of speakers. I thank them all very much for giving us the benefit of their time and wisdom.

I should also give a shout-out to the QLS planning group who put together the speakers and events for the day. QLS members are very well-served by the dedicated staff who make these sorts of events a reality.

The Symposium featured a practical session on cyber-security, as do most of our events these days—out of necessity. Law firms continue to be a tempting target for hackers and scammers. The explosion in the use of computers, smart phones and social media platforms—while increasing our marketing reach and facilitating faster service for clients—has increased our vulnerability.

Indeed, it is worth noting that in the 12 years QLS has run the Gold Coast Symposium, Facebook introduced a newsfeed service and went from fewer than 100 million users to over 2 billion. In addition, a funny little app that didn’t seem to have much use, gained popularity in Brazil and India, partly due to its catchy name: Twitter. Since then, it has been busily embarrassing celebrities and getting people fired on a regular basis, in part due to its 330 million active monthly users.

As an aside I should also point out that in the entire time we have been running the Gold Coast Symposium, NSW has not had back-to-back series wins in the State of Origin. They look no closer to doing it this year after Queensland’s brilliant win last Wednesday. Just sayin’.

Also on 7 June it was the 40th anniversary of Legal Aid Queensland. It is particularly important that QLS note this milestone, because QLS and its members have been integral to the success of Legal Aid Queensland right from the start. The first director, appointed on 24 September 1979, was Barry Smith, a high-profile Brisbane solicitor.

Much of the Legal Aid Queensland funding over the years has come from solicitors trust accounts and the interest that they generate. In 1965, banks began charging fees on trust accounts, meaning they had to pay interest on them. QLS proposed a scheme where that interest be used to provide legal aid, rather than simply becoming another drop in the Government’s consolidated revenue bucket.

(Incidentally, if you are keen to know more of the history of legal aid in our state check out Dr Kay Cohen’s excellent Enhancing Access to Justice: The History of Legal Aid Queensland 1979–2004)

The anniversary is an opportunity to acknowledge the great work Legal Aid Queensland has done in providing access to justice for those who could not otherwise afford it. It is also worth acknowledging that their employees play a huge part in that work, not just in doing their jobs but in going above and beyond to ensure people have access to justice.

While we are celebrating 40 years of legal aid, we are not celebrating 40 years of adequately-funded legal aid. I write this with the state government’s budget about to be handed down, and I hope very much that funding for the justice system—and especially legal aid—is a priority. We cannot rely on the good will and commitment of the Legal Aid Queensland staff—and the lawyers who do legal aid work—to pick up the funding slack. The money raised by interest on trust accounts is finite and being diverted to dozens of other services.

It is time for both state and federal governments to put in and ensure that vulnerable people have access to justice. Last Wednesday our footballers showed that Queenslanders can put in a little extra when there is a need. The question for our politicians, therefore, is simple: are you Queenslanders?

Bill Potts, QLS President

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