A collective endeavour
From time to time over the years, I’ve been asked a version of the following question: “what actually is the Victorian Bar?” The answer is much more than the phrase in bold on our website – which recites that the Victorian Bar is “the professional association of Victorian barristers who provide strong, independent legal representation”. This truth is demonstrated every year – and in particular this one – by the many collectives of members with shared interests, who spend a considerable amount of their personal time in ensuring that the Bar provides support to members, and maintains the legacy of service for which we are respected throughout the community.
I’d like to acknowledge in this week’s In Brief the hundreds of members of the Victorian Bar who are active in the Bar Committees, Associations, other bodies like BCL and the Essoign Club and, of course, the Bar Council – those who volunteer to contribute significant amounts of their time in service of the Bar, the legal profession and the wider community. In this, of all years, the work that they have done has been critical in helping to keep our institution intact, in finding innovative ways of supporting the work of the courts and the wellbeing of individual members, in defending the administration of justice, in maintaining our collegiate bonds, and in ensuring that the Bar is soundly governed and well represented.
Necessarily, calling out any of the work of any individual bodies or individuals will leave other important contributors feeling excluded or unappreciated. For that reason, I point readers to the 2020 Annual Report, that is available on the website here. In their own words, the Bar Committees have described their activities last financial year, demonstrating a huge collective effort and commitment to the greater good. I’d like to acknowledge and thank those who have contributed in circumstances where the toll on their practices, family, and other activities has been especially high. It has been a privilege to work with you during this most difficult of years.
It has also been a privilege to work with the CEO, Katherine Lorenz, and her Bar Office team. They have shown resilience and powers of adaptation that have ensured, in numerous ways – most of them unseen – that the wheels of the Bar keep turning, that services continue to be provided to members, that stakeholder relationships are maintained, that no one falls through the cracks. They have my deep gratitude for the fortitude they have shown this year in the face of, at times, intolerable pressure.
But back to the volunteers. While the Bar Committees and Associations are the formal networks that help to glue the Bar together, there are a multitude of informal networks, mentoring relationships, common interest groups, and friendships through the Bar that also sustain our college. These informal communities are crucial in supporting members’ practices as well as their health and personal wellbeing. The myriad ways in which friends and colleagues have found a way to reach across the virtual divide this year to ask some version of “R U OK?” has helped pull someone else through.
As we gradually return to a “post-COVID normal”, there will be changes that we all think about making in our personal and our professional lives. Some people have felt the benefit of the enforced disruption to routine, while for others it has been a disconnecting and unsettling experience. Either way, there is no better time to get involved in the life of the Bar in new ways. I would encourage any member who wants to make a contribution to complete an expression of interest to join one of the Bar’s Committees. EOIs will open on 13 November.
The Bar is greater than the sum of its 2,200 members – it is an institution, it is a career, it is life for many members. It’s a community that I have been proud and humbled to serve as President these past 12 months.