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The Symposium story

Symposium is the centrepiece of the Queensland Law Society professional development calendar.

It is a source of great learnings, a bastion of collegiality and the origin of memorable moments that pepper our careers.

From humble beginnings, it has grown into a mature 59-year-old that even pandemics can’t stop.

In 1961, after changes to the Matrimonial Causes Act, Queensland Law Society decided to hold an experimental seminar in Caloundra to educate practitioners on the changes in the law.

The event, organised by a committee consisting of CH Wilson, AE Freeleagus and HE Peterson, was a resounding success attended by 109 solicitors and articled clerks, some accompanied by their families.

In June 1962, a second seminar, this time devoted to the new Companies Act, was held at Lennons Hotel at Broadbeach on the Gold Coast. It’s hard to imagine now, but at the time Lennons Hotel, at five storeys, was the tallest and most luxurious hotel on the Gold Coast and sat amongst sand dunes and unsealed roads.

In 1964, the annual seminar was officially renamed as the Queensland Law Society Symposium.

By 1969, professional ethics were featuring on the program, notably a paper on ‘Legal Ethics and Professional Courtesies’ by WH Hart. Some things never change, as today the QLS Ethics Centre solicitors regularly provide advice and training sessions on this ‘hot’topic.

By 1970, the Bar Association of Queensland was invited to join QLS in organising the Symposium to expand the topics and speakers and build collegiality across the branches of the profession.

In 1980, QLS President the late John O’Keefe suggested changing its name from ‘Joint Symposium’ (because of the involvement of the Bar Association) to ‘Legal Symposium’.

At the instigation of the QLS Council, the 1983 Symposium was held in Toowoomba on 18, 19 and 20 February.

In 1985, the 25th Legal Symposium was held at The Resort, Surfers Paradise, with an attendance of almost 500 practitioners, many taking the opportunity to bring their partners and families to enjoy the Gold Coast setting.

Past President Gerry Murphy did not let St Patrick’s Day (17 March) pass unnoticed, leading the singing of Irish songs at the President’s Dinner with Justice Derrington accompanying Elizabeth Nosworthy (the first female President of the Society) on the Steinway. Proctor’s report humourously noted that Miss Nosworthy’s Symposium paper, ‘Secondary Mortgage Markets’, did not lend itself to a duet.

The popularity of Symposium continued to grow, with more than 100 potential registrants turned away from the 1987 event, which saw a capacity crowd of 640 fill the Holiday Inn at Surfers Paradise. The erratic behaviour of the lifts, apparently affected by a fire the day before, was the only reported hiccup.

By 1988, the use of technology was becoming more widespread, with Symposium committee chair Ray Rinaudo reporting that the innovative use of a large television screen in one of the lecture rooms enabled delegates to see and hear the speakers in optimum conditions.

In 1990, the first sessions on marketing legal services and environmental law drew large crowds.

Sadly, the 1991 event marked the passing of well-known QLS Secretary Beryl Donkin, who had been the principal organiser of every Law Society Symposium from the very first to her retirement in 1981. Attendees voted the Hyper Ethical session (a play on the name of Geoffrey Robertson QC’s TV show, Hypotheticals) as the most entertaining Symposium session they’d ever attended.

The 1993 Symposium continued the reputation of Symposium delivering thought leadership in the legal profession and adopted a theme focusing on ‘Challenges for Australia’s Second Century of Federalism’.

The 1998 Symposium examined law in the new millennium and was also one of the first official attendances by newly appointed Chief Justice Paul de Jersey, who became a regular visitor to Symposium for virtually the entire period of his tenure.

Symposium 2000 focused on the future. The plenary sessions, planned to appeal to all practitioners, looked at the GST and its impact on legal practice, and on possible futures for the legal profession.

In his 2001 keynote address, High Court Justice Michael Kirby warned that, without public debate on the human genome project, it was probable that legal responses would be peremptory, emotional and intuitive.

Geoffrey Robertson QC was an acclaimed keynote presenter at Symposium 2003, speaking on professional ethics, responsibilities and risk management. Human rights was also a major theme, with Victorian barrister Julian Burnside QC discussing his involvement with Australia’s refusal to accept refugees on the Norwegian vessel, Tampa.

In 2004, Symposium delegates at the Hyatt Regency Coolum on the Sunshine Coast braved near-cyclonic conditions as they dashed between conference sessions in separate buildings. Nonetheless, it was a complete success, with federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock addressing the final gathering.

Do you have a Symposium moment you would like to share? Please include it in the comments section below, or email it to us at proctor@qls.com.au.

The 2005 event, at the new Gold Coast Convention Centre, was branded LAWASIA downunder 2005. It combined Symposium, the 19th LAWASIA Biennial Conference, the Conference of Chief Justices of Asia and the Pacific, a meeting of Australia’s Attorneys-General, the Law Council of Australia’s Legal Convention and other events.

Vincents’ Symposium 2008 looked at law firms of the future. It was also the year that QLS introduced regional Symposium roadshows.

Symposium 2011 took off with an adrenalin rush on 26 March when fighter pilot Phil Eldridge delivered the keynote opening address, ‘Plan, brief, execute and debrief – a fighter pilot’s secret to business success’. Donations for flood relief topped $10,000.

Symposium 2012 was nominated as the official 50th Symposium. It drew a record crowd of 694 delegates and saw the introduction of new streams covering early career lawyers and coal seam gas, along with the return of the barristers v solicitors cricket match for the Chief Justice’s Cup (with the solicitors claiming victory by 62 runs).

Symposium powered its way through the rest of the decade, with a who’s who of keynote speakers and the introduction of features such as the QLS knowledge Café, Law on the Lawn and Symposium by Night.

The 2018 Symposium brought together Symposium and the Legal Profession Dinner with its recognition of excellence in the profession via award presentations, including the inaugural First Nations Lawyer of the Year award.

Fortunately the 2020 event was over and done just 1 day before the full COVID onslaught changed the face of conferences for many years to come.

In 2021, Symposium successfully transitioned to a hybrid event – both online and face to face – adopting the theme of ‘Shaping the Legal Mind’ and attracting more than 1000 participants. Even a global pandemic could not shut down Symposium.

The hybrid format is continuing for Symposium 2022 and will be easy to access either live online, on demand by App, or in person at the Sofitel Hotel in Brisbane.

Now is the time to start planning your attendance at the, 60th Symposium! It will be held on Friday 11 March and there will be seven streams – family, succession, criminal, property, personal injuries, commercial and core. Attendees will gain 10+ CPD points, as well as an opportunity to network with the profession at the end of the day.

Symposium tickets will go on sale from January, but subscribe now and be the first to access the 10% off flash sale.

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