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Portrait of a profession

Chief Justice Allsop delivers the Symposium opening keynote address. Image: Jon W / Event Photos Australia.

The keynote QLS Symposium 2022 address by Federal Court Chief Justice James Allsop AO is now available.

Chief Justice James Allsop AO delivered some home truths in his keynote address at the Queensland Law Society Symposium 2022.

In his address, titled ‘The culture of the legal profession: lessons of the past and hope for the future’, his Honour looked at several negative factors, including sexual harassment and bullying, and how the adversarial system blended with the power of men to create a norm of combative lawyering.

“This culture does not describe the behaviour of all people in the legal profession, by any means,” he said. “But it does account for its tough edges, many of which remain and which underlie the conditions which reinforce power imbalances and gender-based discrimination in the workplace.

“The revelations over the past few years, as well as involuntary workplace disruption by way of the pandemic, have illuminated these dynamics and spurred conversation and action.

“In order to dislodge this formerly dominant culture and to make the legal profession a safer, more inclusive, welcoming (and so I would suggest more productive) place conformable with the standards expected of modern professionals, I think we need to do the following:

“First, we must lead by an example of politeness as a recognition of the dignity of those with whom we deal.

“Secondly, we must recall our professional obligations, particularly the fiduciary relationship.

“Thirdly, we need to think openly and laterally in a number of ways: we need to be flexible; we need to commit to ongoing education in the full breadth of the general law; we need to be open to new ways of doing things which are more inclusive and we need to contribute to services which support equality of protection before the law.

“Fourthly, we should be candid about addressing mental health concerns and stress in the legal profession.

“Fifthly, we need to be proactive and transparent about putting in place effective policies and procedures which set clear standards of behaviour and which provide robust complaint mechanisms and methods of support.

“All these things are interconnected. They tend to feed each other. None undermines, indeed all support and reinforce, a demand for excellence in the administration of justice.”

Chief Justice Allsop continued, addressing issues such as judicial behaviour, professional obligations and the lessons from the COVID pandemic.

In conclusion, his Honour underlined the need to support the mental health and wellbeing of members and colleagues by speaking about it.

“And we need to turn a critical eye to our ways of working; what are we doing and why and could it be done differently? What can we learn from the pandemic and how might our usual way of doing things be supporting or hindering the work of our varied lawyers, many of whom do not fit the traditional mould of the confident declaimer.

“We need to recall the primacy of our professional obligations, particularly in the face of competing revenue pressures. We need to examine our ways of thinking and working; are they connected to the human context in which they reside and to which they relate?

“There is always the danger of abstracting these issues with words and labels: transforming an important discussion into an almost meaningless collection of clichés. However, sexual harassment and bullying are not words, they are misconduct, misconduct that harms, sometimes deeply, and is an affront to the dignity of the person. They are antithetical to the sponsoring and flourishing of talent and to the administration of justice in a just society.”

Read the full address.

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