The Law Society of South Australia has appointed a new president who will focus on guiding the profession through the COVID-19 pandemic in 2022, in addition to redirecting South Australia-based legal work back to the firms and organisations within the state.
New president Justin Stewart-Rattray will bring over 28 years of experience to the position, including time spent as a member of the society’s professional standards scheme committee and the audit and risk management committee. Looking into 2022, he said the profession could emerge from the pandemic “stronger than ever”.
Commenting on how he will direct South Australian practitioners over the next 12 months, Mr Stewart-Rattray, who replaces Rebecca Sandford, said the profession would have a continuing essential role in guiding the wider community through the pandemic.
“The pandemic has created significant personal and professional challenges over the past two years, and the current Omicron outbreak is further testing us in many new ways. I am keen to help guide the profession through these uncertain times and return it towards a greater sense of normality,” Mr Stewart-Rattray said.
As part of this, he said the profession would keep a close eye on the emergency management regulations and ongoing measures to manage COVID-19. This falls under the Law Society’s Key Election Issues submission, which, in addition to enhancing access to justice, requests a review of the Emergency Management Act.
Mr Stewart-Rattray added that the Law Society would also play a role in helping families resolve disputes related to the pandemic, with family lawyers continuing to see an increase in family breakdowns. He said these disputes are likely to increase over matters such as vaccinating children under the age of 12.
“The legal profession, while dealing with many of the same challenges as other sectors, has worked tirelessly to keep abreast of the complex and changing legal issues that have arisen out of the pandemic. I can say with confidence that the South Australian legal profession is equipped to help guide members of the community through their legal issues, pandemic or otherwise,” Mr Stewart-Rattray said.
Other key asks include facilitating the effective operation of the justice system, ensuring the legislative functions transparently and accountably, and protecting the legal rights of the community. Mr Stewart-Rattray said he intends to “vigorously advocate for the key issues” that are aimed at strengthening the profession.
“The society will not stop agitating for these important issues once the state election is over,” he said. “In fact, we intend to work with the government and all sides of Parliament throughout the year to keep pressing for a well-resourced justice system.”
In addition to steering the profession through the pandemic, Mr Stewart-Rattray said his other key goals include encouraging support for the local profession and easing the regulatory burden on the profession while still maintaining high professional standards that are essential to the proper functioning of the justice system.
This includes redirecting South Australia-based legal work to firms within the state. Mr Stewart-Rattray said he was concerned that too much of that work is given to interstate firms, but it was time “we recognise the expertise we have in our own backyard”.
“The South Australian legal profession is arguably the most regulated profession,” Mr Stewart-Rattray said. “And with good reason. Lawyers should be held to the highest of ethical and professional standards when providing legal services.
“However, there is a scope to employ some common-sense measures to reduce unnecessarily complex red tape for legal practices, particularly small practices, without sacrificing any of the rigorous standards that lawyers should be subjected to. I suspect these sentiments would be shared by other sectors.”