Equitable briefing improving but more to be done
It was encouraging to read this morning that when barristers made briefing recommendations to law firms and clients in 2017–18, they recommended women barristers in 61 per cent of current matters and 60 per cent of new matters, according to the Law Council of Australia’s Equitable Briefing Policy Annual Report released today.
The LCA report found that, nationally, junior women barristers received 30 per cent of junior briefs, meeting the equitable briefing target. However women barristers received only a quarter of reported briefs overall and 17 per cent of total reported fees.
We have made substantial progress and have real momentum but there is clearly more work to do, particularly in understanding why recommendations that women be briefed are not translating into paid work. I encourage all members who have not done so already to sign up to the LCA’s Gender Equitable Briefing Policy.
New Strategic Plan for the Bar
At last night’s Bar Council meeting, a new Strategic Plan 2020-2024 was approved for the Victorian Bar.
The new Strategic Plan continues the vision of “Independence, excellence, leadership and growth” that was first articulated in the 2017–20 plan. It identifies as our purpose, “To ensure the Bar and its members thrive, now and into the future” and sets out four primary objectives: 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 provide leadership and a strong, authoritative voice. Strategies for furthering each of those objectives are identified, as are the standards by which we will measure our success.
Every matter that comes before Bar Council is assessed against the Strategic Plan, as a means of ensuring that the direction of the Bar remains on track, matters are appropriately prioritised against our objectives, and that we are not diverted by distractions and thought bubbles.
I commend the plan to all members, and extend particular thanks to Claire Noone and Ned Lis-Clark of NOUS Group and the members of the Strategic Plan Steering Committee.
Nominations for Bar Council election open on Monday
On Monday, nominations will open for the next Bar Council election. All members who are eligible to vote will receive an email on Monday outlining how to nominate, with links to the relevant form. You have two weeks to submit your nominations— here is the full timetable.
3% increase in scale of costs for counsel
At its most recent meeting, the Legal Costs Committee (which has functions under the Legal Profession Uniform Law) recommended to the Council of Judges that the fees payable to counsel pursuant to the Scales of Costs should be increased by 3.3 percent.
The recommended increase was calculated by reference to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ publication of Average Weekly Earnings for May 2019 (AWE). Last year, with the assistance of Price Waterhouse Coopers, the Bar Council asked the Costs Committee to increase the fees payable to counsel based on AWE increases rather than on increases to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). AWE was seen by the Bar Council as the most appropriate measure given that fees payable to counsel are predominately referable to time and effort expended by counsel, rather than on other elements of potential expense (which influence CPI much more directly).
I am pleased to report that the Costs Committee adopted an AWE approach last year in respect of fees payable to counsel and it did so again this year. In respect of all of the items in the Scales of Cost (which are referable to solicitors' work), the Committee recommended that increases should be based upon CPI which for the relevant period was only 1.3 percent.
Particular thanks go to the Bar’s Treasurer, Sam Hay, for championing this cause and achieving this pleasing outcome.
UN Day Lecture 2019
Hiding in the notices below is the annual United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNICTRAL) UN Day Lecture 2019. The lecture is an annual event coordinated across the country, with an event in the Federal Court of Australia in each capital city on 23 or 24 October 2019.
This year, the lecture is on 25 years of cross-border insolvency reform. Speakers are drawn from the judiciary, the bar, the profession and the academy.
The Melbourne event on Wednesday 23 October will be chaired by the Hon Justice David O’Callaghan with our own Stewart Maiden QC as the speaker and comment by Dr Neil Hannan of Thomson Geer. There will also be drinks sponsored by ARITA, the peak body for insolvency professionals. More details including bookings in the notice below.
Vale Peter Fox QC, Patsy O’Hara and Professor Louis Waller AO
The legal community suffered three losses this week.
Peter Fox QC was a current practising member, so his passing was a shock to many and the cause of profound sorrow to his many friends and colleagues. The Bar’s obituary has been posted in the usual places and is accessible from this link.
Patricia (Patsy) O’Hara was the 26th woman ever to sign the Bar Roll, yet her career has been almost completely undocumented. The Bar’s obituary is the first biographical piece, to the best of my knowledge, that the Bar has produced. The description of her character, which was contributed by a friend and colleague, makes me wish I had known Patsy and worked with her.
The third loss was Professor Louis Waller AO, the father of Ian Waller QC, who died on Wednesday. Professor Waller was a respected academic who taught many members of our Bar. His distinguished career included terms as Dean of Monash Law School and Chairman of the Victorian Law Reform Commission. Professor Waller was an expert in the legal issues relating to the practice of medicine, including forensics and legal issues in medicine. As Chairman of the IVF Committee appointed by the Victorian Government in 1982, then as Chairman of the statutory Standing Review and Advisory Committee on Infertility, Professor Waller led the development of the first legal model for IVF in Victoria. The Bar extends its condolences to Ian and his family.
A busy week
This week I spent a great deal of time trying to put myself out of a job; specifically, this one. I had two meetings with the CEO and members of the Executive and Bar staff in order to plan an orderly transition for the election of the next Bar Council and its officeholders. Last night I chaired a meeting of the Bar Council, at which apart from approval of the Strategic Plan (see above) and many other issues, the Bar’s audited annual accounts were approved.
Behind the scenes, I also attended a meeting about next year’s proposed CommBar conference and a meeting with the Legal Services Board + Commissioner about the forthcoming regulators’ conference, at which I will be moderating a panel discussion on wellbeing in the legal profession.