New Victorian Bar CEO
Welcome to Katherine Lorenz, who started her new role as CEO of the Victorian Bar this week. Katherine comes to us with more than 16 years’ experience as a litigator at top tier law firms and in several high profile in-house roles, most recently as the Executive Director, Corporate Services and Governance and Chief Legal Officer with Monash Health. Please introduce yourself and make her feel welcome when you see her around the traps.
Bar Council election voting closes on Wednesday
Voting for the 2018/2019 Bar Council Election closes at 5pm on Wednesday 14 November 2018.
As in recent years, voting is being conducted wholly online. The electronic voting portal is accessible from the Member homepage of the Victorian Bar website via your member login and password, or via this link (you must be logged in). A ‘hot desk’ is available in the Bar office to complete online voting, if required.
The poll will be declared at 1pm on 15 November 2018, with results announced soon after.
Call for Nominations for the Victorian Bar Pro Bono Awards
Many of us have colleagues who make an outstanding contribution representing parties on a pro bono basis. Please consider nominating them for the 2017/2018 Victorian Bar Pro Bono Awards.
There are four awards presented to barristers of differing years’ call and two open awards—the Public Interest Award and the Victorian Bar Pro Bono Trophy. Details of the different award categories are available on the nomination form located on the Victorian Bar web-site. The nomination period is open until 14 December 2018.
The Victorian Bar Annual Report has been published to our website. As well as containing the Bar’s annual financial statement, the report provides an insight into the breadth of the work done by our Bar, including the Bar Council, Bar Associations and Committees. There is a full list of appointments and honours of all kinds, and details on members joining, leaving and transferring divisions.
As this is the last In Brief for the 2017/18 Bar Council term, I have reproduced here an edited extract of my report from the Annual Report, as a form of year-in-review of the life of the Victorian Bar.
It has been an honour this year to serve as President of the Victorian Bar—an independent college of specialist advocates which is proud of its heritage, but at the same time modern, accessible and committed to principles of equality and diversity. On my appointment, I stated my intention to reflect the values that make the Victorian Bar an irreplaceable part of our system of justice, and to advocate for those values as widely as possible in the interests of members and their practices.
Bar Council has throughout the year maintained a clear focus on the four core objectives of the Victorian Bar’s 2017–20 plan: to maintain and expand market share, to provide services to members to support and enhance their practices, to foster excellence and enhance the performance of Victorian barristers, and to be a strong independent and authoritative voice. All matters coming before Bar Council are assessed against the strategic plan.
We have been assisted in our work this year, in particular, by the wealth of information gathered about our members and their practices through the ‘State of the Victorian Bar’ report. The report was the most comprehensive study of the Bar ever conducted, providing detail on the changing demography of the Bar, its increasing cultural diversity, progress on equitable briefing, income levels and changing work composition and practices. This robust report is being used to guide measures that will further enhance the reputation of the Bar and the practices of its members.
In October, we released the results of the ‘Wellbeing at the Victorian Bar’ survey conducted earlier in the year with the assistance of the University of Portsmouth. The survey was the largest survey of its kind that we have ever undertaken, and the results are a treasure trove of information about the things we do well, and the areas that require greater focus in order to support our members. The ‘Wellbeing at the Victorian Bar’ report will be used to guide the development of information and resources to improve the wellbeing of members in the months and years ahead.
What follows is a mere snapshot of some of the highlights of our major activities this year.
The Bar has delivered a strong financial result this year, particularly in circumstances where investment has been required to implement and deliver important initiatives, including the two invaluable surveys to which I have just referred: the ‘State of the Victorian Bar’ survey and the ‘Wellbeing at the Victorian Bar’ survey. The Bar’s results include a dividend from its wholly owned subsidiary, Barristers’ Chambers Limited (BCL).
Over this financial year, CEO Sarah Fregon, together with Finance Manager, Susan Lawrence, have worked to ensure that the high standard of financial oversight and reporting to Bar Council and the Audit & Finance Committee has been maintained. They have also reviewed and updated internal systems to ensure that the controls and processes in place remain appropriate for the Bar.
The finance services previously provided to the Bar by BCL have now been brought in-house. While the previous arrangement worked well, we believe that this change will provide an improved focus on the Bar’s financial needs.
Consistent with the previous year, a CPI increase was applied to Bar subscriptions at 2.2 per cent. The Bar Council carefully considered the application of an increase before taking this step and decided that, on balance, it was appropriate to make this change to ensure the long term financial stability of our operations.
As the financial results show, the Bar’s finances are managed prudently. All subscription revenue is used to deliver the services that the Bar is required to provide and that members expect.
As our wholly-owned subsidiary, BCL’s accounts are consolidated as part of the Bar’s annual report. BCL has performed well under the strong leadership of its Chair, Paul Anastassiou QC and its CEO Paul Clark.
In 2016, a working group of the Bar Council, chaired by Wendy Harris QC, conducted a comprehensive review of governance at the Victorian Bar, culminating in a long list of recommendations and action items. Since then, successive Bar Councils have implemented those recommendations, resulting in dramatic improvements in the quality of the information provided to Bar Council, the operations of Bar Council itself, and the interaction between the Bar Council and the Bar Office.
Among other things, the improvements have included the adoption of a new strategic plan and Bar Council Charter, KPIs for Bar Office staff, an induction program for Bar Councillors, a complete review of all Victorian Bar policies and committees, the introduction of Committee Charters, and better resourcing in the Bar Office for policy development and requests for policy input by government and other organisations.
The Constitutional Reform working group of the Bar Council, chaired by Simon Marks QC has, as part of the governance review, led a debate within Bar Council, and then the whole of the Bar, about whether the governance of the Bar would be improved by moving from the current, annual election model to a biennial election model. It is intended that amendments to effect such a reform, and other amendments to the Constitution, will be put to a Special General Meeting of the Bar in early 2019.
Our 2018 International Commercial Law conference in September in Hong Kong was a major external engagement activity. With the theme of ‘Wise Counsel: Litigation & Arbitration in the Asia-Pacific Region’, the conference was opened by the Honourable Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma GBM, Chief Justice of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal and the Australian Consul-General to Hong Kong and Macau, Michaela Browning and had an outstanding list of eminent Australian and international speakers from our Bar, the judiciary and the Hong Kong Bar.
Around 130 delegates attended eight panel sessions that covered topics as diverse as the rise of international commercial courts, arbitration arising out of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, re-regulation of the banking and financial services industries, modern trends in case-management of commercial disputes, and the use and misuse of sensitive data. Every panel included at least one speaker from the Hong Kong Bar or broader profession.
Our successful Junior Bar Conference, held in June, also engaged a number of senior members of the broader legal profession.
The ‘State of the Victorian Bar’ survey highlighted changing work practices for barristers.
In response, the Bar Council has established a Corporate Direct Briefing Working Group, chaired by Senior Vice-President, Wendy Harris QC, which has been tasked with recommending and developing actions to educate members, corporations and in-house counsel of the advantages and opportunities for direct briefing, and developing ‘toolkits’ of resources that can be used by corporations, in-house counsel and barristers to unlock those opportunities.
The terms of reference for the working group tie directly into the purpose of the Victorian Bar as stated in the Bar’s strategic plan: ‘to ensure the Bar and its members thrive and continue to do so’, as well as to one of its key objectives, ‘to maintain and expand market share’.
The Bar also has a Direct Access Working Group, chaired by Justin Hannebery, which is reviewing current means of direct access to the criminal Bar and exploring opportunities for their expansion.
Education remains a strong focus for Bar Council.
As usual, we conducted two Bar entrance exams and two readers’ courses in 2018. Our readers’ course was established in 1981 and was the first in Australia. It is a nine-week, full time course, conducted by around 140 trainers drawn from the judiciary, the Bar and beyond, almost all of whom donate their time.
In August, more than 200 Victorian law students attended the Victorian Bar’s inaugural Open Day to learn about career opportunities as a barrister. The Open Day was oversubscribed, with law students from all major Victorian universities applying to participate.
Partnering with the City of Hume, the Victorian Bar Foundation recognised the top performers in year 11 Legal Studies from 16 schools in the Hume City Council area with the Victorian Bar Foundation Student Achievement Awards. Sixteen winners were awarded a cash prize of $1,500, and a total of 48 students have been offered a personal mentoring opportunity with members of counsel, to assist them in assessing a possible future career at the Victorian Bar.
In 2018, we also launched the Victorian Bar branch of the Law Library of Victoria in the Richard Griffith Library in Owen Dixon Chambers East. Incorporating the Victorian Bar’s library into the Law Library of Victoria furthers the Bar Council’s objectives of providing services to members to support and enhance their practices, and fostering excellence and enhancing the performance of Victorian barristers. This exciting initiative means that, for the first time, members of the Victorian Bar have access on a 24/7 basis to the very same online research tools that are available to members of the Victorian judiciary—resources that will further lower barriers to entry to those coming to the Bar and improve those available to every member. Our agreement with the Law Library of Victoria has also led to improvements to our hard copy collection, an increase in borrowing rights from the Supreme Court Library, improved research support, and the presence at advertised times of trained librarians in the Richard Griffith Library.
Diversity and inclusion
This year the Victorian Bar has made important progress in increasing diversity and inclusion.
The ‘State of the Victorian Bar’ survey findings demonstrated clearly that the Bar is increasingly culturally diverse—15 per cent of Victorian barristers were born overseas in more than 30 countries; while members speak more than 37 languages with 9 per cent speaking a language other than English at home. Strides towards true gender equality have been made, with women now comprising more than 29 per cent of Victorian barristers compared to less than six per cent in 1980. More than 40 per cent of barristers under 15 years’ call are women and more women barristers are earning higher incomes.
The Bar’s commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion in the legal profession is demonstrated in many ways. One matter upon which focus was placed this year was the Bar’s endorsement of the Law Council of Australia’s Equality and Diversity Charter and Equitable Briefing Policy. More Victorian barristers have adopted the Equitable Briefing Policy than in the rest of the nation combined, formalising their commitment to ensuring that briefing recommendations take into account the full array of talent available at the Victorian Bar. The ‘State of the Victorian Bar’ survey showed that members of the Victorian Bar recommend that women barristers, and particularly junior women barristers, be briefed in numbers significantly higher than their representation at the Bar.
The Victorian Bar has been active in implementing measures to improve gender equality since at least 1998, including via our nation-leading parental leave subsidy, which has now been in place for more than 20 years. We are leading the other Australian Bars in gender equity measures. We have real momentum that we must continue to drive.
Additional initiatives to support the retention of women at the Bar include unconscious bias awareness training, return to work programs and regular reporting on demographics and exit surveys.
The Victorian Bar also has a range of measures designed to assist Indigenous Australians to enter and remain in the legal profession, including a Reconciliation Action Plan, Indigenous Clerkship Program, Student Mentoring Program, Student Work Experience Program, Indigenous Barristers’ Fund, Indigenous Barristers’ Development Fund and chambers subsidies for Indigenous barristers. It was a particular thrill this year to learn that one of our members, Tim Goodwin, had been named the Australian 2018 National Indigenous Legal Professional of the Year.
In July, we launched new and strengthened policies and procedures on discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment, which make it clear that this is unacceptable conduct at the Victorian Bar. Our policies are a clear statement of the Bar’s values. We have enhanced the grievance mechanisms that are available to members, including via new complaints and reporting mechanisms. A number of eminent barristers have been nominated by Bar Council as Bar Conciliators to assist in implementing the new conduct policies. The Bar Conciliators have received training from the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
In October, around 150 members of the legal profession gathered in the Neil McPhee room to launch the Bar’s LGBTI Working Group’s online support resource, which has been designed to assist lawyers in tackling discrimination that may be faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex persons in the workplace. The resource is part of the Victorian Bar’s commitment to ensuring that the Bar is a centre of legal excellence where the best and brightest are welcome and can thrive, whatever their background or circumstances. It provides all members of the profession with practical examples, information and strategies to support their practices and colleagues.
This year the Victorian Bar also established a cultural and linguistic diversity working group, to assist the Bar Council in understanding the challenges faced by barristers from culturally diverse backgrounds, and to develop resources for all members of the Victorian Bar.
In May, I was honoured to speak at the Muslim Legal Network’s annual Iftar (breaking of the fast) dinner, the first time that a Victorian Bar President has done so.
All of these activities reflect the view that the Bar should reflect the community that it exists to serve and be a welcoming workplace for the best and brightest legal talent, regardless of background.
Finally, the ‘Changing Face of the Bar’ exhibition, opened in September, showcased 700 photographs that tell the rich story of the dynamic and diverse modern Victorian Bar. Opened by renowned photographer, Bill Henson, the photo exhibition by Garth Oriander at the Peter O’Callaghan QC Gallery contrasted today’s Bar with the Victorian Bar of the 1930s and 1980s. More than 700 currently practising barristers were photographed, in everything from surf life-saving gear and sporting lycra to formal robes. This exhibition was a graphic testament to our collegiality, diversity and humanity, uniting our most senior and revered members, Chairmen and Presidents past and present, and our newest advocates.
Health and Wellbeing
The Victorian Bar has always supported the health and wellbeing of its members through a range of formal and informal measures, and has been a national leader in understanding the stressors that affect members of the profession. This year we launched an online survey to build on our understanding of the prevalence of wellbeing issues at the Bar and the contexts in which they occur. The findings of the ‘Wellbeing at the Victorian Bar’ survey, conducted with the assistance of the University of Portsmouth, will be used to build on support programs for members.
Headline results were favourable and encouraging, including that 73% of respondents were satisfied with their overall quality of working life and 79% felt that overall, taking everything into consideration, they felt satisfied with their jobs. Less positively, far too many of us experience stress at work and do not get the sleep we need every night.
In addition to survey questions related to job satisfaction and personal wellbeing, data was also captured on discrimination (gender, race, disability and other forms), bullying and harassment encountered by barristers. While in most respects the results are below benchmarks in the legal profession and the broader community, some of the findings are concerning. However, we carried out the survey, in part, to better understand issues and develop strategies to address them, and that is exactly what we are doing, through our support services, training and working groups.
Among other matters, the results have already led to the development of an Australian-first Judicial Conduct Policy. The policy outlines the standards of judicial conduct that members are entitled to expect, sets out available (and improved) grievance and reporting mechanisms, and introduces the Bar’s first Judicial Conduct Advisers—eminent members of the Bar who are available as a support and to give advice in relation to judicial conduct experienced or witnessed by members. A protocol for raising and resolving complaints of inappropriate judicial conduct has been developed jointly by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Hon Anne Ferguson and the Bar. It is hoped that that protocol will be adopted by all courts and tribunals in Victoria, building on informal mechanisms that have long been in place, but not well enough understood. It is a fine example of collaboration between the Bench and the Bar on a matter where our interests—and values—entirely coincide.
Access to justice and pro bono work
We are proud of the pro bono work done by members of the Bar. Such work is seen by most barristers as a way of putting back into the community. It is difficult to measure the value of the contribution that our members make by way of pro bono service, but we can confidently predict that it is worth the equivalent of many millions of dollars per year. We know from the ‘State of the Victorian Bar’ report that 44 per cent of members undertook more than 20 hours of pro bono work in a 6-month period in 2017. These contributions are too often unheralded, and yet can make the most profound difference to the lives of those who are assisted.
Our pro bono duty barrister schemes with Victoria’s courts and tribunals have been comprehensively reviewed this year, with the objective of consolidating and streamlining our disparate programs and relaunching a more effective and efficient system, managed via a new online portal. Working with the County Court, in October we launched a new pilot scheme for pro bono referrals. While work is ongoing, the result will be an improved experience for barristers undertaking pro bono work, leading in turn to better outcomes for both courts and clients.
Law Council of Australia and the Australian Bar Association
The Victorian Bar is a constituent member of the two national representative bodies of the legal profession, the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Bar Association. We have been active in both organisations this year. Justin Hannebery has served as the Bar’s director of the LCA under the presidency of Morry Bailes, while Jennifer Batrouney QC and I have served as directors of the ABA under the presidency of Noel Hutley SC. I have particularly benefited from my role as a director of the ABA this year, getting to know and working with my counterparts at each of the other Australian independent Bars on matters that affect our branch of the profession.
One of the most rewarding aspects of being President is working together with others, pretty much every day, on projects to improve the standing of the Bar and opportunities for and the welfare of our members. All positions on Bar Council, its committees and working groups are voluntary, but such is the spirit of collegiality at the Bar that we are never short of members willing to lend their skills, experience and valuable time and for this I am extremely grateful.
It has been a privilege to serve as President of the Victorian Bar. We are a centre of excellence for legal talent, attracting people who see the law not just as a means of making a living, but as a way of shaping a better society. By adhering to the core values that have always defined the Victorian Bar—particularly independence, excellence and leadership—and by strong and authoritative advocacy of those values in the profession and the community, we can be optimistic that our Bar will continue to thrive in a rapidly changing world.