Welcome to our newest readers
Yesterday marked the first day of the September 2019 readers’ course. We have 48 new readers—26 women and 22 men, including two readers from Papua New Guinea, Rebecca Koralyo and Amanda Ila, who are reading with Anna Robertson and Maya Rozner. We also have an International Commission of Jurists-sponsored visitor from Malaysia, Collin Andrew, who will be in Melbourne for a month observing elements of our readers’ course and visiting the courts as an observer.
As you see members of the cohort around chambers, please make them feel welcome. They have been promised that our Bar is an open and inclusive place with a genuine open door policy.
In the opening session yesterday, I sat in on part of Susan Brennan SC’s marvellous address on the role of the barrister. Towards the end of her session, she asked readers to stand up if certain statements were true of them. Did they have a second passport? (Susie assured them that there are no constitutional impediments to dual citizenship for advocates.) Did they ever harbour ambitions of being actors in the theatre? Were they fans of Game of Thrones? And so on. It was all great fun, but there was a particularly insightful moment, when Susie asked the readers to stand up if they were the first person in their family to graduate with a law degree. Only a few remained seated.
This is not unusual for our cohorts of readers, and may not surprise many of us, but I would bet that it runs counter to the public perception of our branch of the profession. If they ever existed—which I think doubtful—the days of young barristers finding their feet with the assistance of family contacts are well and truly over.
As Susie had taken care of the 11 key things the readers needed to know (summary: enjoy this time of learning, use only yellow highlighter, and staple on the diagonal—I got there late, so I assume that earlier she may have also mentioned the cab rank rule, getting involved in Bar Associations and committees and so on), I was left to indulge one of my favourite pastimes of listing for the rapt readers the reasons why the Victorian Bar is so much better than any other Bar in the common law world and beyond—excellence, growth, diversity, wellbeing measures, our tradition of civility towards one another, and many more.
I also mentioned low barriers to entry, much of which is to be credited to the wise decision, in 1959, to establish Barristers’ Chambers Ltd. Today, BCL owns Owen Dixon Chambers East and West and Douglas Menzies Chambers, and rents space in other buildings for lease to barristers. Our unique model of being able to rent chambers as monthly tenants means we do not have to save or borrow to pay ‘key money’, which can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars at some Bars. It has also enabled the Victorian Bar to develop innovative policies, such as our parental leave and Indigenous barristers chambers subsidies. They, in turn, have helped to drive the strides we have made towards the composition of our Bar better reflecting the composition of the community we exist to serve. BCL is actively working on plans to secure the future of our property holdings for future generations of members—I am very much looking forward to being able to share information about that with you in the not-too-distant future.
Our new readers have the luxury of nine weeks to think about nothing but advocacy, including the opportunity to try things out and make mistakes while they find their own voice. I have encouraged them to use their time well and deploy the skills they learn throughout long and happy careers at the Bar.
It is always a thrill to see the readers on their first morning, knowing that they will remember the colleagues they sat with in that room for the rest of their careers, as we all did in our day. Lifelong friendships commenced yesterday.
“QC declares bar open for cheaper counsel”
Senior Vice-President Wendy Harris QC took aim at some outdated stereotypes about barristers in the legal pages of today’s Australian Financial Review (subscription required). As Wendy pointed out, corporate Australia has not fully capitalised on the fact that barristers not only provide outstanding legal services, but also do so at exceptionally competitive value for money because of our independence and low overheads. Wendy also took the opportunity to explain to the influential readership of the AFR the Bar’s Corporate Counsel Engagement project. The project is part of the Bar Council’s strategy for expanding market share by raising awareness of our distinctive competencies among clients and the community and positioning members of the Victorian Bar as leading experts in the provision of legal services.
National Press Club address
Next week I will be in Canberra, joining Law Council of Australia president Arthur Moses SC to speak at the National Press Club. We will be speaking about how eroding freedoms impact people and the press. If you are interested in the subject matter, ABC TV will be carrying it live on Wednesday 4 September at 12.30pm.
A busy week
On Monday we held a ‘Town Hall’ style meeting to which the last five intakes of readers were invited, to canvass their views about the options for managing the fact that our readers’ course is oversubscribed, meaning that we cannot accommodate everyone in the course of their preference. I won’t reveal the size of the turnout, other than to say that I think we will call such consultations ‘focus groups’ from now on.
On Wednesday I hosted an informal drinks event with a number of our Bar Conciliators to thank them for their work in advising members and conciliating complaints under the Bar’s discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying policies.
Behind the scenes this week, I met with, among others, the Bar’s CEO, Executive, communications consultant, and the chair of the Ethics Committee, Róisín Annesley QC.