ECLECTICISM won the day at last week’s Law Society of New South Wales AGM after members gave their vote of approval to a controversial plan to furnish lawyers of a variety of persuasions with guaranteed council seats.
Needing a three-quarters majority to effect a required constitutional change, the motion was passed when 76.9 per cent of voters approved a proposal slightly altered from the one narrowly defeated in 2002.
According to Law Society President Robert Benjamin, who welcomed the change that will now see government, corporate, and big firm (40 partners plus) lawyers assured of two seats each on the 21-member council from next year, around 80 per cent of members cast votes.
Likening the result to “getting a referendum across the line”, Benjamin anticipated the new face of Council would naturally identify with a greater range of members. He said entrenched positions would ensure groups such as corporate lawyers, who constitute 12 per cent of the profession, but historically cannot muster the voting power to manage a representative on Council, would be provided for.
“There was a good debate at the AGM about the motion, but nothing acrimonious,” Benjamin said. “It’s (passing the motion) a good structure to take into voluntary membership next year because more sectors of the profession will be represented on Council.”
Sources who were at the meeting reported voices of disapproval amongst those in attendance. One dissenter was keen to challenge the right of Young Lawyers to maintain an entrenched seat, despite the profession’s junior members totalling almost half the society’s 18,000 plus membership base.
The yearly debate over the president’s allowance saw a number of attendees label next year’s rise from $150,000 to $160,000 too high.
Benjamin, however, countered suggestions that remuneration for the top job is excessive by instead claiming the president deserves more.
“When you take into account a few things, such as the fact it’s a full-time job that takes you out of your practice for not only the 12 months as president, but also the six months beforehand, I think it’s a bit low,” fired Benjamin, who said he had not enjoyed a single weekend off since Easter. “No-one wants to argue his or her income, but for an organisation that turns over $35 million each year, you’d have to be kidding to suggest $160,000 is too much.”
“Upon retiring, most presidents have suffered a significant financial loss. If there is not a proper allowance in place, the wider profession will be alienated from the role and it will only be available to those who can afford it.”