Gordon Salier, the new president of the Law Society of NSW, has just left the starting line of his new post and is running with his predecessor’s mantle. Salier is already grappling with the development of last year’s programs, the upcoming voluntary membership of the Law Society and the matter of ethics.
Salier says his new role is “quite different” from his 40-year career as a private practice solicitor. Taking over from Robert Benjamin this year, who followed closely the Law Society’s four year plan — now in its final year — he is prepared to take on all the issues that the Law Society has deemed important.
An ethics department at the society, as well as the existing ethics committee, will see ethics become a primary focus for this year’s team. Where there are areas that are urgent, members are entitled to seek presidential rulings. “This is one area we can assist, as members’ matters can be dealt with rather than discussed at monthly meetings,” Salier explained.
The provision of ethics communication is also a possibility this year through the College of Law. This is an issue close to Salier’s heart as he was previously the chair of the ethics committee for four years. “Ethics is one of the things that distinguishes us as a profession, and we need to get this message to the public,” he said.
The threat of voluntary membership of the Law Society, effective 1 July 2004, will also be absorbing the president’s time in office. This internal issue will be a major task for both Salier and the CEO, who will have to trek throughout the various regional and suburban areas promoting the benefits of membership.
The Society’s aim to achieve at least 85 per cent of the current compulsory membership is an ambitious one, but Salier has a road map to achieve it. “We have to let members know what we do for them, and hopefully convince them to belong,” he said.
Pressed as to why people might show hesitation, Salier said if it exists at all, there was “possibly some concern that the Law Society does nothing for members”. Ready to contradict the reservations quickly if they do exist, he assured Lawyers Weekly that “I think it’s important, if you are a professional, to belong to the body that lobbies for you.”
Other issues include the continued development of the Pathways program, initiated last year as an attempt to retrain lawyers who choose to move from one area of legal work to another. The courses were a response to shake-outs like that among personal injury lawyers due to the declining amount of litigation in light of tort reforms. “The Bar is faced with the same problem after the recent publicity of the whole floor of solicitors being dissolved,” Salier said.
While the College is currently looking for new areas, which are yet to be settled, others have already been established. “We are going to rerun courses in industrial practice, solicitor advocacy and compliance and due diligence,” Salier specified, as well as “closely monitoring” the Pathways program.
On the matter of professional indemnity insurance, Salier said it involves the government and the reinsurance market and is therefore something that is on the Law Society’s agenda this year.
“I am hoping that by July 2004 we may have the reality of the setting up of a mutual insurance company which will offer our solicitors stable premiums and no proposal,” he said. “A lot needs to be done in this regard,” he added.
Another pressing matter for Salier is national insurance, though he stresses there is nothing the Law Society can do to directly affect this, particularly as it involves the attorneys general for the States, Territories and Commonwealth.
However, he expects there will be some movement in this area in the near future. “As I understand the present position, the attorneys are close to reaching a decision which will affect the national profession in Australia.” Stressing the Law Society of NSW’s support for the project, Salier is awaiting a draft of the proposed legislation, which he hopes will soon be available for public consultation.