150 years ago, Queensland didn’t have much at all – no Gabba, no Lang Park and no decent highway from Brisbane to Cairns.
Importantly for all Queenslanders, and for the rule of law, it did have what has been shown by scientific tests at the Large Hadron Collider to be the greatest school of all time, Ipswich Grammar; oh, and a law society, it had one of those too.
Of course, with Lang Park renamed1 and the Gabba marked for destruction and a multi-billion dollar rebuild (that may well result in four extra seats as long as they don’t put the sight-screens back), the only things we can count on are the school and the Law Society.
A decent highway from Brisbane to Cairns will also eventually happen, albeit only if the lava flows the right way after continental drift forces the Australian continent to collide with Asia, so fingers crossed!
Yes, there has been a law society in Queensland for 150 years this year, a development that will fill members with pride, inspiration and some confusion, since the brighter among them will recall that we celebrated our 90-year anniversary back in 2018. Even by the low standards of the mathematical skills of lawyers, this probably seems a bit hard to reconcile.
The thing is, however, that in 2018 we celebrated the passing of the legislation which established the actual Queensland Law Society, which came into effect on 1 April 1928. There is no truth to the rumour that this is the origin of April Fool’s Day.
This year we celebrate 150 years – or our ‘Sesquicentennial’2 – since a law-society-type-thing was first created in Queensland, and if you think that is just a lame excuse for another round of celebrations, lunches, dinners and drinks, then your deductive reasoning is a heck of a lot better than your maths.
This first society was created in Brisbane and largely ignored the rest of the state, which may be where successive governments got the idea from. Good thing that doesn’t happen anymore, hey regional practitioners?
The first law society was not particularly successful, since the Brisbane restaurant scene had not yet been invented, and solicitors at the time were unable to discuss matters of import without access to fine food and wine.
Nowadays some lawyers can discuss matters of import anywhere – toilets, gymnasiums, crowded buses – often in loud voices and with unnecessary attention to detail and no thought of confidentiality (no complaints here, of course, that’s the sort of thing that keeps an ethics solicitor employed).
So the first Queensland Law Society morphed in the Queensland Law Association in 1883, and spent much of the next 44 years debating a change of name. This turned out to be a good thing, as many years later Premier Campbell Newman sought to have the Queensland Law Association covered by his VLAD laws, only to be foiled by the name change that accompanied the association’s transmogrification3 into a statutory body in 1928.
Not long after this, Queensland’s first law school was established at the University of Queensland, kicking off with a series of equity lectures, some of which are still going on.4 This also set the scene for the then Queensland Institute of Technology (QIT), many years later, to open a more practical (that is, easier to get into) law school.
From these humble beginnings the Queensland law school industry has exploded, creating new law schools on an almost monthly basis and sparking competition for graduates, to the point where some law schools are kidnapping students from other disciplines.
Expert commentators speculate that the dearth of new teachers is driven almost entirely by rogue law schools dragging unsuspecting teaching students off and subjecting them to non-stop constitutional lectures until they become convinced that they always wanted to study law, and that the external affairs power is a work of art.5
However, I digress and return to our history of the society, and note that during World War 2 the Society initiated a program of free wills for soldiers, and wartime legal aid schemes for servicemen and their dependants.
Many of these soldiers were inspired by these efforts to enter the law when they returned from war; their experiences in basic training and being tortured by the enemy went on to form the basis of articled clerk training techniques for decades to come.
Also during the war years, Beryl Donkin became the Society’s first employee, receiving £4 per week, or about twice the wage of your average articled clerk when I graduated.
This was a momentous occasion (Beryl’s appointment, not my graduation), partly because it signified the Society was becoming truly professional, but mostly because, all these years later, it has given me the opportunity to use the £ sign for the first time ever in a column. I’ll pause here for a moment while a certain type of person goes back through all my columns to try and prove that wrong.
Beryl went on to serve the Society for 40 years, showing great resilience, given that she must have attended some of the most boring meetings that ever occurred, at least before the invention of buzzwords and Kevin Rudd. Perhaps because of this (her resilience, not the invention of Kevin Rudd) Beryl was honoured with the dedication of the Beryl Donkin room here at Law Society House.
That room served the Society well, being the scene of momentous decisions as the Society paved its way to greatness. It was also the scene of much mirth, as its lights needed to be separately activated. This led a certain former CEO who I’ll simply refer to as Noela, because if I call her Ms L’Estrange it might betray her identity, to ask, “Is Beryl Donkin turned on?” (Beryl was surrounded by old men with and average age of 145 and a passionate interest in equity, so I’m going to say no).
Anyhoo, in 1951 the Queensland Law Society Act was passed, which I needn’t go into because I am sure you have all read it; I know I couldn’t put it down. The QLS Symposium kicked off in 1964, although it was less riveting6 back then because PowerPoint had not been invented, so attendees had to imagine case studies, annoying animation and pictures of my dog.
In the late ’60s, the Society saw great growth in the criminal law sphere, as the policies of the Bjelke-Pertersen Government turned crime from the last resort of desperate people into a full-on career path. Plus, statutory interpretation became much easier, as laws became more like the horizon, sort of a concept rather than an actual thing.
Towards the end of the ’70s, the Society introduced Continuing Legal Education, and as the ’80s hit, began sending out CLE resources on hi-tech media such as audio and video cassette tapes, the idea being that firms could undertake CLE at their leisure. Many firms are very close to getting around to doing this.
Also in the ’80s, The Proctor was launched, giving members a way to keep up to date with the latest cases, and law students something to snigger about when misunderstanding the name. At that time, of course, it did not have the sophistication to produce articles with the level of cynicism and snarkiness that this one contains.
In 1987 QLS moved into Law Society House, a modern, purpose-built facility with everything solicitors needed to function effectively, by which I mean a members’ bar. There was also a library and mediation rooms, apparently.
Ha-ha! Just joking, of course; all solicitors of a certain vintage remember the library, a haven where articled clerks could find wisdom, knowledge and a safe place to sleep without getting caught. In the ’80s you were a better chance of walking into a law library and seeing Elvis playing ping-pong with Bigfoot,7 than running into a partner there.
There were also the mediation rooms, which became invaluable to the profession although some kinks did have to be worked out. For example, in one such room, we used to have the ceremonial shovel from the start of the construction of Law Society House hanging on the wall, in the hope that it would inspire co-operation among the participants, much as Law Society House inspired co-operation within the profession.
Unfortunately, in some heated mediations, the shovel inspired in participants not so much co-operation as an urge to use it in a fashion more usually associated with professional wrestling; so it now hangs in the CEO’s office, to assist him in responding to staff complaints.8
Meanwhile, with the help of the Society, the legal professional was getting much more professionallier. For a start, the practice management course was introduced, meaning that newly-admitted solicitors could not simply get admitted, walk across the street and open up their own firm.
This was partly because the council library was across the street, and the librarians were sick of law firms starting up in any unoccupied cubicle, but also because teaching students how to run a business was not high on the agenda of most law schools, in the same sense that teaching students how to solve the Einstein Field Equations wasn’t.
This meant that bankruptcies in the legal profession were becoming as common as long Friday lunches (the two phenomena may not have been unrelated). So it was decided to educate lawyers on basic business issues – provisioning for staff allowances, establishing robust filing systems, not treating the trust account like a holiday fund – before they could start up their own firms.
The same initiative was not taken up by the Bar Association, since research showed that no first-year barristers had any clients anyway.9
In 1991, each QLS staff member received a computer for work; most of them handed it back and noted that they’d actually rather have a wage. Computers had become necessary, however, as membership records began to be entered on a computer database – a long process which we are confident will be complete any day now.
It was also in the ’90s that Proctor expanded, by taking on some of the reporting duties of the defunct Queensland Law Society Journal, and by including the whimsical musings of a handsome, intelligent young solicitor, who shall remain nameless to protect his secret identity. When he stopped writing, though, I stepped in10 and established both the tradition of my monthly column, and the tradition of people complaining about it to the editor.
At the turn of the century, much change assailed the profession, and the Legal Services Commission was formed and claimed dominion over all the lands; it was then that a last alliances of solicitors and barristers formed, and, when all seemed lost, the QLS President cut the ring from Sauron’s hand, and – no, wait, that is Lord of the Rings. Not that I am suggesting that the two scenarios can be compared, I just love to squeeze in a Lord of the Rings reference.
Around this time, Continuing Legal Education began to change too; for a start, it became compulsory, meaning that people actually started showing up. Also, it began to utilise more ‘dynamic’ – by which I mean ‘lazy’ – presenters who used PowerPoint presentations, rather than producing 460-page ‘conference papers’ which attendees used largely for curing insomnia.
These conference papers were usually handed out in ring-binders, folders that secured large volumes of paper via ring-clip type things that could not be opened or closed without receiving several moderately serious puncture wounds. This was because the rings would only open under enormous pressure, and only all of a sudden, sometimes helpfully disgorging the contents of the folder over a wide area; we can only hope Vladimir Putin never gets his hands on this technology.
In fact – and in this case, that term indicates a true story and isn’t just a figure of speech – a former colleague of mine once fell asleep at a conference, face down on the table, in a folder containing a paper roughly the size of the Tasmanian Dams Case (illustrated and appended), without being as entertaining.
My colleague did not catch his nose in the rings (although for the sake of the story, I rather unkindly wish that he had) but did manage to snag his tie in one. As veteran conference attendees will know, it is easy to fall discreetly asleep at these conferences, but impossible to wake up without doing so in an abrupt, startled manner and trying very hard to pretend that you had been awake the whole time.
So my colleague awoke with a start, sitting bolt upright so as to convey that he was paying attention; the folder, firmly attached to his tie, slammed with impressive force into his face, causing him to jump up in an attempt to escape his adversary (the folder) which – still attached to the tie – slammed again, with remarkably accuracy, into his face. Naturally it then disgorged its contents over a wide area (the folder did, I mean; not his face).
It probably says something not altogether pleasant about me, that this is one of the three funniest things I have ever seen, and they all involve someone hurting themselves. That said, I’ll bet good money it is the only thing any of the attendees remembered from the conference.
So we can see that the advent of PowerPoint made conferences safer, albeit less entertaining, even with the advent of animation and pictures of my dog. We can also see that the increased safety at conferences is directly related to the efforts of QLS in Continuing Legal Education (although we’d have to squint a little). Also around this time we changed the name to Compulsory Professional Development, since Continuing Legal Education sounded a little bit like something Chairman Mao11 made you do while farming turnips.
Another way the Society made solicitors safer around this time was by establishing the QLS Ethics and Practice Centre. True, the safety improvement might have been achieved largely by removing the ethics solicitors employed by the centre from the general legal profession, but a win is win. Speaking of wins, it was around this time that the mighty Queensland Maroons won eight12 Origin series in a row; while not strictly a part of QLS history, it is always worth mentioning.
In 2014, QLS achieved another milestone when I commenced employment for the Society (Did you mean milestone or millstone? – Ed.). Plus, our family got a dog, giving me much column fodder and providing me with a way to distract people from the actual content of my presentations, which, I am sure we can all agree, was a good thing.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for QLS, as a few years later the pandemic struck;13 scientists quickly established that the COVID-19 virus crossed over to humans in wet markets in China, settling the question once and for all.
Ha ha! I joke of course; the origins of the pandemic launched more conspiracy theories than the Moon landing and Donald Trump combined, establishing a conspiracy theory industry that economists estimate now drives 6% of the global economy. Of course, conspiracy theorists respond to that figure by pointing out that the global economy is a conspiracy run by Bill Gates, Taylor Swift, Google, The Majestic 12, The Magnificent 7, The Dave Clark 5, The Queen (who is not really dead) and a giant space beaver who lives on the Moon (which we didn’t land on).13
QLS responded well to the pandemic, transitioning easily to working remotely, and in some cases not even remotely working (see what I did there?) and managing to keep services flowing for QLS members. The silver lining was an explosion in skills which now help us better serve members, especially if what our members want is sourdough bread, videos of us doing push-ups or high-quality Star Trek memes.15
Now QLS heads boldly into the future, with the adventure of the renovation of Law Society house nearing completion. The renovation will assist us in meeting the needs of members and the profession in general, with upgraded communication hubs, member facilities, shiny new kitchens and – most importantly of all – a workplace that looks a lot like the Starship Enterprise.16 There is no truth to the rumour that it also has a staff-only water park on the roof.
Who knows what challenges await the Law Society in the future? Holographic courts? Mediations in hyperspace? Invasion by China because I made a COVID joke? Boldly going where no lawyer has gone before?
I’d love to speculate, but it is my turn on the waterslide.
© Shane Budden 2023
Shane Budden is a Special Counsel, Ethics, with the Queensland Law Society Ethics and Practice Centre.
1 Of course, real Queenslanders still call it Lang Park.
2 No, not Bigfoot, that is Sasquatch.
3 It is so a word, I read it in Calvin & Hobbes.
4 I kid of course – they are all still going on.
5 Given the low bar as to what constitutes art these days, this is almost certainly true.
6 Yes, less.
7 Or, as I am sure you recall, Sasquatch.
8 Ha ha! Just jokes! If the CEO is reading this, there are no staff complaints, we all love it here!
9 Some things never change.
10 I have no secret identity; everyone knows I’m Spiderman.
11 I mean Mao Zedong, not Dan Andrews, although I understand your confusion.
12 For New South Wales readers, that’s all your fingers (without the thumbs, for those few of you who were born with them).
13 Not that this had anything to do with my starting at QLS, at least not as far as anyone can establish to the Brigginshaw standard.
14 I am pretty sure I am making this up, but not as sure as I’d like to be).
15 And who wouldn’t want that?
16 Granted, mostly like the Starship Enterprise’s library, but still.