QLS President’s Report – October 2017 Edition: Collegiality on a world stage

QLS President's Report – October 2017 Edition: Collegiality on a world stage

Why we should lead the way

There is a tendency for the general public to assume that the practice of the law is something akin to combat – a constant battle to defeat your opponent or gain advantage for your client.

Probably as a result of a diet of stereotypical lawyers parading across our TV screens in US-made productions, the public has gained the idea that everything in the law – from the negotiation of a cottage conveyance to High Court applications – resembles Game of Thrones without the costumes.

In truth, collegiality is at the heart of the profession and I have often emphasised this when speaking at conferences and events. Because the commoditisation of many parts of the law through technology has reduced the opportunities for members of our profession to interact and sustain those professional relationships, it is important that we continue to make efforts to sustain collegiality whenever we can.

That collegiality also has a place in the bigger picture of the profession, not just across state borders but also throughout the world. The breakneck pace at which we communicate in the digital age, and the burgeoning opportunities to interact with our colleagues around the globe, have made the pace at which trade negotiations and the legislation which enlivens their outcomes seem glacial by comparison.

In order to manage the gap in this two-speed brave new world, our collegial ties to lawyers in other jurisdictions and nations will be invaluable. It is for this reason that I am currently working on reinvigorating the Society’s International Relations Committee, with a particular focus on cross-board collegiality.

It is the Society’s role to provide leadership for the profession in these exciting and hectic days, as well as to open up opportunities for partnerships and collaboration with lawyers in other parts of the world. These times are not without their challenges, but the opportunities far outweigh the risks and, properly managed, greater engagement – especially in the Asian region – will be of great benefit to the Queensland legal profession.

In fact, Australia in general, and Queensland in particular, is well-positioned to thrive in the ‘Asian century’. While it is true that in our hyper-connected world, dividing the globe into geographic regions is becoming less relevant and may soon be redundant, positioning is not just a geographic concept.

Queensland has strong ties to Asia through trade and tourism over many decades; Queensland Law Society has hosted delegations of lawyers from China and other Asian nations in the past, and will continue to build on those relationships going forward.

As part of that effort, last month I was privileged to attend the 30th LAWASIA conference in Tokyo, which proved a wonderful opportunity to network and engage with like-minded colleagues from throughout the region; it is clear that Australia and Queensland have a leadership role to play in the ongoing process of creating closer ties with the international legal profession.

One look at the program confirms that the issues which are critical to this process are those in which our state and country are strong. Access to justice and elder law – two issues which have been the focus of highly successful advocacy by the Society over the past two years – were high on the agenda. Topics also having a prominent position at the conference were the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law, and anti-corruption efforts.

Australia has an impeccable record in relation to the judicial independence and the rule of law, themes which again have been prominent for QLS for several years. Our leadership in this area – and our strong and succession anti-corruption regimes – place Queensland and Australia as natural leaders here, which is so important to greater engagement across Asia.

Discharging that role appropriately and successfully will again fall back on those collegial ties, the professional friendships forged at conferences and other arenas which will assist in navigating the challenges ahead. While we are well-placed, there are stark differences in the way law is practised in our broad and diverse region, and smoothing out the bumps and snags along the way will require patience and hard work on both sides – which is much more likely to be forthcoming between true colleagues and business partners than between strangers or diplomats with inevitably political agendas.

For that reason, this was an opportunity well-seized and the relationships forged and connections made will no doubt bear fruit over the coming months as we move confidently forward into an era of truly multi-jurisdictional practice and global engagement. Scary, exciting, risky, fertile – the future of the legal profession is all these things, but we need not fear it if we are prepared, and we have made a good start.

The brave new world will be one navigated by collegiality – not a bad omen for a country whose most oft-used word is ‘mate’.

Christine Smyth

Queensland Law Society president


Twitter: @christinesmyth