27 March 2019
“I've been lucky enough that I can gather all sorts of experiences and find inspiration by travelling around and by spending time with people I admire.” – Bonnie Raitt
As President of QLS I know where the legendary Bonnie Raitt is coming from, because wherever I go I find inspiration from our admirable members and profession. A week or so ago I was at our Symposium, being inspired by our members, through their selflessness and dedication to their clients and colleagues.
Last Wednesday night, I was inspired by our future members and colleagues, and humbled by QUT Law Society’s invitation for me to be the keynote speaker at their Meet the Profession function. The event is based on an excellent initiative – to get solicitors and law students together to facilitate a conversation about clerkships. Bringing together the future of the profession and its present is a great idea in my view. I was very happy to take part. My heartfelt thanks goes to the QUT Law Society for inviting me, and to their members for making me feel so welcome.
I was asked to respond to the following question: Where do you think the law industry in Brisbane currently sits, where it is headed in the future and what do you think students should be doing now to prepare for the future of law? Nothing like an easy question to kick things off!
Indeed those issues are nothing like easy, nor is the reality which our future lawyers must face: an ever-changing legal landscape in which only an agile and innovative profession will survive. It seems that we here in the profession (and I do think it is a profession, and not an industry) never stop talking about the challenges of new law, technology, AI…the list goes on.
That wasn’t what I focussed on in my speech, partly because it has been well and truly done but mostly because it misses the point of what we as solicitors do. Technology will change the way we do certain tasks, but the central role of a solicitor will remain that of an empathetic, independent communicator. AI can recall more precedent cases than I will ever know, but the service I provide to my clients — and that you provide to yours — does not depend on an encyclopaedic knowledge of cases (lucky for me!).
When I am talking to a young client who is facing a serious criminal charge, he does not need me to recite the criminal code backwards. He wants something to believe in— something from me that lets him know I am going to stand up for his rights, ensure that his voice is heard and his story is listened to in its entirety.
I need him to have that confidence, that belief in me, because nervous witnesses come across poorly, forget vital things and even agree with things they don’t believe, just in an effort to get off the witness stand, to be anywhere but there. A witness in that state could be innocent and end up in jail, so a big part of my job is communicating — communicating that confidence, explaining to the client how I will win and how I will show the jury why they cannot find him guilty.
Whatever area of practice you are in, your clients seek a similar assurance. Yes, they need us to get all of the forms and details right, be in time for court, provide sound advice and negotiate well on their behalf. Even more, they need to have confidence in us, their lawyers, that everything will work out. It is our job to bring peace of mind to them. Assurance will not be achieved by technological wonders — for that we need people skills.
Those skills are the skills we develop and build through interaction with our peers, our friends, our families and our communities. They arise from the collegial networks we build around us, and we need to keep nurturing and growing them throughout our personal and professional lives.
It was for just such purposes — bringing together the future of the profession and its present, and growing the soft skills that lie at the heart of our roles — that then Deputy-president Christine Smyth devised and launched the Modern Advocate Lecture Series back in 2016. This series has gone from strength to strength, while becoming one of the Society’s flagship events and bringing lawyers together in a collegial environment to hear some of the judiciary’s leading lights speak.
The next lecture in the series is on 4 April, kicking off at 6pm, and we are honoured to be welcoming Her Honour Justice Berna Collier of the Federal Court of Australia to deliver the first lecture for 2019. Her Honour will speak to the topic, ‘Appearing in the Federal Court – What Judges Want’, a great subject for young lawyers and older lawyers.
You can register here, but don’t delay; these lectures fill up fast and registrations close on 2 April. The lecture will also be live-streamed on Facebook for those who cannot be there in person. On 20 June, we will also be doing our first regional lecture in the series in Cairns, so stay tuned for details.
Speaking of judges, I am very happy to note that we have a new Federal Circuit Court judge in Townsville. Judge Guy Andrews brings a wealth of experience and acumen to the role, and his arrival is most timely. Courts are important social infrastructure and essential to our communities; it is worth noting that the workload in Townsville and in North Queensland warrants another Federal Circuit Court judge, and that the ranks of Townville’s solicitors are flush with excellent candidates. I urge the Attorney-General not to stop while she is on a roll; more please!
We are coming up to a busy part of the year, including a federal election. As always, the Society will be calling on the major parties to commit to a number of sensible and necessary law reforms that have been identified by our members through committees and other feedback. I will speak more of this in my next Proctor column.
Until next time, be excellent to each other!
Bill Potts, QLS President
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