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This ‘fork in the road moment’ will show the true strength of the legal profession

From bushfires through to a global pandemic, the legal profession has withstood many challenges over 2020 but it is this new “fork in the road” moment approaching the new year which could really make or break it. NSW Law Society’s Richard Harvey has high hopes that the profession can only improve from here on out.

user iconNaomi Neilson 28 October 2020 Big Law
Richard Harvey
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In an annual members address relegated from the traditional face-to-face presentation to a virtual meeting, Mr Harvey quipped that this last 10 months “hasn’t been an easy year to practise law”. From the summer bushfires, devastating floods and the current pandemic, lawyers have never had it harder.

Reflecting on the year that it has been and the way the year may still end, the president remarked that the profession is at its “fork in the road moment” where a bad situation – the pandemic and more – can either make things worse or “take a turn for the better”.

Fortunately, Mr Harvey said that he has seen many turning points everywhere in those difficult moments where the profession has turned things around for the better.  

 
 

“I genuinely believe that we will emerge from this crisis stronger with more flexible and inclusive workplaces, with more accessible and tech-savvy courts and with a renewed sense of commitment to our fellow citizens and the institutions we serve,” he said. 

In his speech, Mr Harvey reflected on the “turning points” from the date of appointment, starting with the summer bushfires appeal. He thanked the hundreds of solicitors who assisted, the Law Society, the bar associations and its barristers, and Legal Aid which enabled the profession to “help individuals, families and entire communities”. 

He said it came as no surprise to him, “knowing the great-hearted women and men of the profession”, that solicitors and firms immediately offered their time and expertise. It is this “spirit of collaboration” that turned things around for a suite of 2020 challenges: the pandemic, mental health issues, advocacy work and court changes. 

As the rest of the profession changed, so too did its membership associations. For the NSW Law Society, this meant adapting the way it worked by moving its CPD programs to an online platform, creating a dedicated COVID-19 portal and sending out a regular update to members with the most relevant and up-to-date pandemic information. 

“This ability to adapt reflected the leadership shown by the wider profession as courts conducted hearings by video-link or telephone conferences and law firms transitioned to working from home arrangements,” Mr Harvey said, adding that many lawyers have enjoyed setting their own working hours and replacing commutes with better activities. 

Speaking to the “naysayers” who doubted that the productivity of the profession could be sustained, Mr Harvey said he believes them to be “proven emphatically wrong”. He added that while being “careful and astute”, the profession learned a lot from the past 10 months to continue to serve in the law and fulfil its vital roles.  

As 2020 begins to wind down, Mr Harvey reflected back on his term as president with “a sense of gratitude” and he looks forward to renewed sense of optimism. He said he is not naive about the current (and future) challenges that lie ahead but that he is very hopeful that the “character and calibre” of legal professionals will continue to survive. 

“I have witnessed not only abilities but their deep and abiding sense of service and so I remain confident that together – as a profession and supported by this association – we will ultimately emerge from this crisis stronger and better able to serve the court and our fellow citizens,” Mr Harvey concluded.