With the COVID pandemic expected to rampage through the community well into 2022, incoming Queensland Law Society President Kara Thomson sees the welfare of members as a primary focus.
“I will focus as much as I can on the health and wellbeing of practitioners because we’ve had such a tough couple of years and it’s now persisting into 2022 as members are impacted by high case numbers of COVID,” she said.
“We need to make sure everyone is OK, that our mental health is being looked after, and that the way we work isn’t being adversely impacted – our members need to be safe, healthy and agile enough to accommodate the changes that may come.
“And it’s not just about individual health and wellbeing, but the health and wellbeing of practices as well. We need to make sure they are sustainable in this new age, whatever this new age may be.”
Kara said that health and wellbeing encompassed many things.
“It is collegiality, it is viability of practices, but it also brings in our ethical obligations and making sure that practitioners are skilled,” she said. “We need good lawyers who understand what their obligations are and are able to fulfil those obligations, not just with other practitioners but with the public, as well as holding the confidence of the courts.”
Kara is a Brisbane local who was born and raised on the south side. She went to a local state school, graduated from QUT and was admitted in 2006. She is a consultant at Hughes and Lewis Legal and last year was QLS Vice President.
“I’ve worked in all types of firms, from micro to international, including national and Queensland-focused firms,” she said. “I practise in personal injuries law, both defendant and plaintiff. I have worked predominantly in Brisbane, but also in Townsville where I really learnt a lot about the pressures of regional life for members – I highly recommend spending time in regional towns as there is a collegiality of the profession that really creates some amazing professional networks.”
She said that legal costs and costs disclosure would continue to be a focus in 2022, with further education for practitioners to ensure compliance and understanding. Likewise, claims farming would remain in the spotlight as stakeholders investigated the expansion of regulation in that space.
“I think that will potentially be a big issue for this year because we’ve already seen legislative reform of the Motor Accident Insurance Act 1994 and there will most likely be some transitional changes impacting workers’ compensation and public liability claims,” she said. “It’s a bit of a domino effect.”
While there may be changes within her practice area, Kara notes there is work being done by the QLS to advocate around legislation changes which may arise as a result of the pandemic. Increased legislative activity is anticipated when government resumes, which QLS will consider and make submissions on where appropriate.
“Practitioners will of course in the early part of the year be most directly impacted by navigating issues associated with an isolating workforce, potential reduced client contact due to isolation, vaccination policies and procedures, and making sure they are ensuring the health and safety of their own staff whilst balancing the need for access to justice in a timely and effective manner.”
Kara said that the proposed key areas of activity for QLS in 2022 included mental health, inclusivity and sexual harassment in the workplace.
“Continuing to work on a culture shift will be a big project,” she said. “I am particularly keen to work with our First Nations practitioners to see what can be done to retain and attract more First Nations practitioners to the profession.”
Kara said QLS would also be advocating for more solicitors joining the judiciary.
“There have been some excellent and very well-deserving solicitors appointed to the judiciary in recent times and I believe that should continue in recognition of the value and skills that solicitors bring to the judiciary.”
Kara steps into office as the Society’s first millennial President, as its seventh female President, and she will lead a Council with a greater female balance than ever before – with nine female and two male members.
“It is an exciting change,” she said. “In our Beryl Donkin OBE meeting room we have framed photos of all the Councils going back to 1990; we can see the gender shift and women playing a broader, more inclusive role in Council.
“The inclusion of nine females on Council is a reflection of our membership more broadly as we have in recent years passed equilibrium.
“I think the new Council really reflects the changing tide and the changing role that professionals are playing in the legal industry and it is particularly pleasing to see a rather broad section of the membership represented from south of Brisbane all the way up to Townsville – hopefully that representation continues to expand in coming years as more members decide to get involved.”
Kara paid tribute to 2020 President Luke Murphy and 2021 President Elizabeth Shearer.
“Luke and Elizabeth have done an absolutely amazing job in bringing the 2020-21 Council on the journey to where we are now, because it has been a really difficult time,” she said. “They are fantastic role models and we couldn’t have asked for better leadership.
“They leave big shoes to fill, but I’m very fortunate that Elizabeth will be around to provide support during the year. I think I speak for everyone on Council when I say that we are very grateful for the leadership that they have shown.”
Readers may be intrigued by Kara’s profile on her firm’s website, which says “…few would know she has more in common with Zsa Zsa Gabor, Elvis Presley and Britney Spears than most folks. Just ask her.”
So we did.
“Like all of those people, I got married in Las Vegas,” she said. “My husband and I got married in Las Vegas 18 years ago – in the same chapel where Elvis and Priscilla were hitched.”
So welcome, Kara Thomson, to your year as QLS President.
“I’m an eternally optimistic person and I’d like to bring that optimism to Council and the Law Society, and I think that’s really important in terms of those themes of health and wellbeing in 2022 and to drive some of the cultural shift around health and wellbeing issues in the profession,” she said.
John Teerds is the editor of QLS Proctor.