Our role as leaders
There are many examples, too many to list in this message, of members and former members of the Bar stepping up to leadership positions in our community – in the judiciary, in not-for-profit and charitable organisations, in politics, in business, in the media. The Bar is rightfully proud of the contribution that they have made, and are continuing to make, to maintaining the robust institutions that underpin our society and democracy.
But members of the Bar show leadership, quietly, in many other ways. The day-to-day contribution that members make is particularly important in these times of social distress. The example that we set in the shared pain of lockdown is essential in maintaining barristers’ reputations as leaders in our community.
Of course, these times are difficult and frustrating. I recognise – as does the Bar Council and CEO – that for many members this is a period of profound financial, professional and emotional distress, and that this is combined with the significant dislocation and disruption caused by the unprecedented public health response currently underway. Despite the challenges of maintaining households, caring for children and other dependents, running practices and preserving general sanity, overall our members have risen to the challenge in a way that fills me with admiration.
Throughout this pandemic, we have also recognised the particular importance of advocacy in the interests of our members at this time – advocacy which is active, effective and responsible. Advocacy which seeks to maintain important relationships that can ultimately be leveraged to secure better outcomes. Advocacy which seeks to mitigate impacts on members but also recognises that as a Bar, we need to play our part, along with the rest of the community, in securing the public health objectives which underly the current restrictions. Advocacy which is focussed on working with and through the heads of jurisdiction, the courts, the Attorney-General, senior levels of government, the regulator and our professional colleagues in a way that is calculated to secure the best outcomes attainable in the universe of the possible. That universe is necessarily limited by what the Chief Health Officer is prepared to tolerate by way of exceptions to the chosen policy, which seeks to significantly constrain movement in the community.
While the solutions are never perfect, we are pleased that the pressure has been lifted somewhat for those members who are not Permitted Workers and are attempting to work from home with young children. The exception announced on Tuesday evening is important to ensure that those members are able to continue to play their part in keeping the wheels of justice turning. For those who missed it, the Q&As provided by the Department of Justice and Community Safety identifying the content of the exception can be found here.
And for those whose work-from-home challenges are not alleviated by these measures, of whom I know there are many, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria has today written to me, on behalf of the Supreme, County, Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts, reiterating that the Courts are most conscious of the realities presented by conducting remote hearings from home, and encouraging practitioners to raise difficulties presented by the COVID restrictions with the relevant judicial officer so that solutions can be considered. A copy of the Chief Justice’s letter is here. I know that some may feel reticent to do so, but I urge members, again, to take up the Courts’ invitation, which is a reflection of the strong bonds and mutual respect that exist between our organisations.
We will continue to advocate in the interests of our members. I hope that, in turn, members will continue to see themselves as leaders in the community in the context of this mandated public health response, which has left so many people hurting.
Mentoring to develop leadership skills
Another critical part of leadership is having an awareness of the situations of others, our impact on them, and having the confidence to share insight and experience. There are great opportunities to do this through the formal and informal networks that form the backbone of our college. Mentoring has always been a vital part of the Bar and mentors and mentees often develop life-long supportive friendships, which have helped many of us through difficult professional and personal times. Mentoring has driven the Bar’s growth and success, and we are keen to foster these relationships.
Yesterday members would have received a communication from Katherine Lorenz, the CEO, inviting them to join VicBar’s new Mentoring Program Pilot. This formal program will help cement core communication skills and to tighten the bonds between members – vertically, horizontally and diagonally. The program will contribute to developing the next generation of leaders at the Bar. I hope that all members will take a little time to read about what is involved here, and if they’re interested in participating, sign up and come along to the information session next Wednesday. We’ve had a strong response already, so please get in touch if you’d like to take part.
I’d like to conclude this week with asking all members to spare a thought for those Victorians who have lost loved ones in this pandemic, and for those who have fallen ill and may be facing uncertain health outcomes. We may be “fortunate” in Victoria that we have not faced the situation affecting other communities around the world – where almost everyone knows of someone who has been ill or has lost loved ones to the coronavirus. But many in this State have, and to those people I pass the Victorian Bar’s thoughts and good wishes.