QLS Symposium 2017

Friday 17 March, Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre

President’s opening address

Future of our profession

With this year’s theme “framing the future”, it is fitting for me, as your President to ask the BIG questions: What DID people do when they went to the bathroom before smart phones? Or, if your computer beats you at chess, is it ok to beat it at kick boxing?
 More seriously – what does the future of our profession look like?

To start with, positively, the statistical trend says we will see a higher percentage of women not only entering the profession but also staying in the profession longer. And this is a good thing. Why? Because technology provides us so many more options as to how and where we conduct legal practice.   There has been a seismic shift in law firm’s flexibility practises, recognising that “women are the other half of the sky and without them there is nothing and without men there is nothing there’s only the two together creating society.” So said the late great John Lennon. You may say he’s a dreamer, but he is not the only one.

As to the sky, technology has reached such incredible heights, the sky literally is the limit. It is difficult even to imagine where technology will take us. But we know if we ignore it, we will become the buggy whip and not the transport of future delight.

We are living in the age of technology where advancements move  according to “Moore’s Law” that the computing power will become smaller and faster doubling every year.

For the baby boomers in the audience, in the words of John F Kennedy “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.” Remember your brick phones and compare them to your wearable technology.

We have come a long way since the first super computer, the ENIAC [1] in 1946.

It cost around $487,000, which equates to around $6,816,000 today. It weighed approximately 27 tons and was about 2.4m x .9x 30 metres.

When I first entered the work force, telex machines that sounded like machine guns with their foam-lined boxes to deaden the sound and DOS based computers with dial up, were the height of technology. Each screen would take 15 minutes to load.

These days we have personal computers, laptops, portable tablets and smartphones that can fit into our pocket or handbag costing just a few hundred dollars (the phone that is).

We also have smart watches where you can wear your phone as an accessory and see calls, messages by the flick of your wrist. You are never out of touch.

We can connect with each other at the mere touch of a button.

You would already see the ways in which technology is utilised in everyday life and in business and expanding the traditional definition of an office. Law firms no longer have phones, phones have law offices.  Law firms now operate from cars, cafes and corner stores.

Technology allows lawyers to effortlessly and seamlessly connect with clients in ways that in my earlier days of practice we simply could not imagine. A bit like the driverless car – it was a product of mere fantasy and a lifetime away from fact.   Cars will soon have the Internet on the dashboard. I worry that this will distract me from my texting. Did I mention BMW is a sponsor?

Of course, it is crucial for the legal profession and the administration of justice for lawyers to become more tech savvy.  But, in the words of Pablo Picasso: “Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.” To that end I was once cautioned, that if you put rubbish into a computer, you get rubbish out.  I am sure though now, rubbish was not the word used.

While technical skill is undoubtedly essential, the true value of a lawyer is in being a trusted advisor. Our role is to be the human face to the human problems our clients present us. It is one of the great benefits of representing clients – the people you serve are the people in your local community; the barber, the baker, the butcher, the business person.

Getting legal information from the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant. While technology improves our ability to deliver services to clients, it is our ability to synthesise and apply that information in a practical way suitable to the needs of the people we serve, that distinguishes us.

As technology advances, I am sure that we will come across many more hurdles and opportunities to better serve justice and our clients and also strive for that elusive work/life balance.  That I hear, like unicorns, does actually exist in the land of rainbows and butterflies.

I encourage you to strive for excellence, continue your pursuit for knowledge and never be afraid to speak out and advocate for the rule of law.  It is this principle that makes our profession truly noble and uniquely relevant more today than ever before.

[1] Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer