Where to from here?
We can all be forgiven, I think, for being a little dispirited this week.
Just when we thought that we were out of the woods, with infection rates dropping and some normality returning to life, it now feels a bit like our isolation is becoming indefinite. I’m sure I echo the sentiments of many members when I say that I understand why we need to remain working from home, but I’m very tired of it!
It takes courage to confront uninvited challenges and to leap into an unknown future. That is what we’ve had to do in the last few months. We have had to accept that we don’t know when or if the old routines and practices of the institutions we are part of will return to the way they were, and if not, how will things work out for us in the new world. Many of our members are leaping in and finding new ways of working and using different channels to connect with clients. For example, this month LIV Young Lawyers Social and VicBar New Barristers’ Committees co-hosted a law-themed Trivia Night, via webinar.
At VicBar HQ we’ve been developing other new initiatives to add value to barristers’ practices – like re-igniting the advocacy interactive workshop program via Zoom. To kick things off, advocacy workshops are again available for barristers who are keen to develop their skills further. These include the Case Preparation Interactive Seminar, which explores the fundamental techniques of preparation, and the Expert Evidence Workshop, which allows participants to conference with, examine and cross-examine expert witnesses in guided simulations.
I’ve had many comments from members that the art of advocacy is different in an ‘online’ environment. The corollary is the different art of stage performance to film. Sir Laurence Olivier said that on the stage the actor is more the master of the situation than in a film (this medium being owned by the director). According to Sir Laurence, on film the acting is ‘very precise, very exact, I suppose…subtler…the canvas is smaller and the brush strokes are finer’. For those members who want to command all aspects of online advocacy, we’ll soon be announcing some bespoke workshops from expert television and screen trainers on how to work the camera, effectively present in online forums, and recognise and avoid the unconscious movements that can undermine our presentation when we are viewed through a lens.
Soon we will be expanding our popular “In Conversation” webinar series, which thus far has been focusing on the courts’ responses to COVID-19, and will pivot to discussions with legal and other leaders in our community. Please let us know if there’s someone you’d particularly like to hear “In Conversation at the Bar”.
In other good news, the VicBar Mediation Centre has reopened (with precautions in place – you can book here); the VicBar Expedited Mediation Scheme launched last month and is already providing mediators upon court requests; and the new VicBar Pro Bono Platform has already referred five cases from the courts through to barristers.
In the past few days, we have been confronted with the dreadful revelations in the High Court involving the allegations of sexual harassment of associates by Dyson Heydon QC. Everyone has a right to feel safe in their workplace and the Bar does not tolerate or welcome members who perpetrate any kind of harassment or intimidation toward others. I urge all members, if there is an incident that you hear about or witness that should be reported, to please report it through one of the channels listed here.
If you need help or support, please call one of the counselling services, details of which you can find on the member Health & Wellbeing page here.
It’s also important that we check-in with those we’d normally bump into in chambers or in the courts. And if someone you know is acting out of character, ask them if they’re okay.
The anxiety, uncertainty, anger and disappointment you may be experiencing at this time is normal and justified. That is the key message of the excellent webinar The Covid Capsule Part 1: Take-off that the psychologist Sandy Rea presented this week. We engaged Sandy to speak with members about mental health during COVID, to help us understand what specific issues are causing us distress, and how to examine our struggles and anxieties honestly. Next Monday, The Covid Capsule Part 2: Orbiting will explore techniques to help you navigate the transition back to work in chambers, and to develop psychological safety in yourself and those around you. Members can register for the second part of the webinar here.
Of course, to take advantage of all of this, you need to hold a valid practising certificate! So, to the small number of members who have not yet renewed, please take the weekend to do so through the link here.
Some congratulations are also in order: Dr Ben Gauntlett, who left the Bar in May 2019 to commence his five-year term as Australia’s new Disability Discrimination Commissioner has been nominated for an Aspire Award©, which recognises Australians who identify with a disability and whose work and achievements have made a significant contribution to their profession or community.
There are lots of things happening at the Bar, and I’m optimistic about the new financial year. We’ve all taken some blows this year – there will continue to be surprises in the next. But I’m confident that together we will weather this storm and emerge stronger than ever.
Enjoy your weekend and stay safe.