In the midst of pandemic panic, it has been heartening to see the finer qualities of our legal profession come to the fore.
There have been outpourings of goodwill, and the resilience and collegiality of our practitioners have stood out.
Our profession has knuckled down to refocusing their practices, changing the way they work and adapting to a new world with significant uncertainty, except that justice for all remains an essential focus.
When I say ‘profession’, I am talking about it in the widest sense, including the judiciary, court staff, legal support staff and all those involved in the efficient and effective administration and implementation of our laws.
In March it was evident that the government-imposed pandemic restrictions were going to create significant obstacles for the day-to-day operations of our legal system. Any doubt about that was removed by the urgent responses by the heads of jurisdiction and government departments who immediately convened meetings to address issues of access to the courts, tribunals and commissions.
The pandemic restrictions necessitated urgent adjustments to our day-to-day operations of legal practice. It also quickly became clear that the pandemic was going to negatively impact cash flow for the vast majority of legal firms of all shapes, sizes and locations.
QLS Council knew the profession needed not only financial support but also assistance by way of enhanced support services as soon as possible. The renewals process was an obvious avenue through which part of that assistance could be provided.
The Government restrictions were announced on Sunday 15 March and work started on a support package in the week immediately following Symposium.
The first Finance and Risk Committee meeting was Monday 23 March. There was a subsequent Finance and Risk Committee meeting on 25 March. There was a Council meeting on 26 March – which reached agreement on the fundamental principles that would underpin any assistance package and identified the areas that needed further investigation.
The investigation of how the support package was to be best structured involved an extraordinary amount of work by QLS staff and lengthy deliberation by Council. Council wanted to ensure that any financial resources accessed for financial assistance were being utilised equitably for those members of the profession who had contributed to the accumulation of the respective reserves.
Council endeavoured to determine if one demographic of the profession was being impacted more than others, such as single regional practitioners or large commercial firms. Ultimately, there was no reliable evidence. There was evidence all areas of the profession were hurting. Council decided it would be inequitable for to do anything other than treat the profession equally.
There has been an extraordinary commitment on the part of Council, Society staff and the staff and board at Lexon, who provided wonderful assistance and support to Council in its deliberations, in particular Michael Young and Glenn Ferguson AM. This assistance has been significant and much appreciated by Council.
The Law Foundation Queensland board is also keen to assist and I remind everyone that the foundation is available to consider applications for financial hardship loans as a lender of last resort.
COVID-19 has presented, and will continue to present, significant challenges for the profession both financially and administratively.
However, the goodwill of all members of the profession and the willingness of the judiciary, particularly the Chief Justice, Chief Judge and Chief Magistrate, and the leaders of the court services, the various tribunals and commissions, Queensland Corrective Services, Police Prosecutions and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to assist the profession and minimise the impact of COVID-19 both on the profession and on the operations of the courts and tribunals has been extraordinary.
The Attorney-General and her department must also be thanked for their willingness to meaningfully engage with QLS and to consider any issues raised by the profession as a result of the pandemic. Working with the department has seen very positive outcomes achieved.
All of the district law associations have also willingly engaged with QLS to identify and solve local issues, and I particularly thank all association presidents. Thanks must also go to the volunteer members of our QLS policy committees – including those covering criminal law, court rules, succession law, franchising, property, accident compensation and notfor- profits/charities – for their willingness to contribute to all of the various responses QLS has been involved in as a result of COVID-19. Your contributions are very much appreciated.
It is a given that the responses that have been put in place to enable legal services to continue will certainly result in long-term changes to the way in which the profession conducts its work into the future.
These changes will create a number of opportunities for our profession. The Society looks forward to assisting the profession in identifying those opportunities and making the most of them. And whilst there is obviously significant work still to be done, the pandemic will end and the practice of law will return to some sense of normality, whatever that new normality may be.
With a profession rich in resilience and bursting with goodwill, I know we will be ready for it. Thank you all again for your support and please continue to support your colleagues and maintain communication with us at QLS. We are here to help.
This story was originally published in Proctor May 2020.