As the 2011 president of the Law Society of New South Wales, HWL Ebsworth litigation partner Stuart Westgarth plans to reaffirm the Society's role as a 'thought leader', on issues such as women in the profession and time-billing.
"The Law Society has the reputation and resources to publicise balanced and well-researched views on a range of issues affecting the legal profession and law reform," Westgarth said. "I will be leading a strategy to achieve those objectives in 2011."
Westgarth has vowed to address the perennial issue of gender imbalance in the upper echelons of law firms.
"Figures for senior women in the profession in government departments and in-house are much better than for private law firms. One needs to look at that and ask why. What are the characteristics which enable representation in that area and not [in private practice]?"
Costs and time-billing is another significant issue which Westgarth hopes to address through seminars and further discussion this year. While aware of its downfalls, Westgarth is not supportive of its widespread criticism amongst the profession.
"Costs and billing is a huge issue. There's a constant criticism of time billing. I don't want to be seen to be defending time billing because I see its problems, but on the other hand, I think the criticism is exaggerated and doesn't take into account one of the strengths of time-billing," Westgarth said.
"If done properly, [time-billing] is a true reflection of the work undertaken, whereas fixed-fee billing involves a gamble that the work undertaken will equate with the fee previously agreed to. If you do it super efficiently, the client has lost the gamble. If you do it really inefficiently, the lawyer's lost the gamble."
Also on the agenda for Westgarth this year is the proposed national profession reform, which is to be submitted to COAG on 14 February 2011.
"We have had and will continue this year to have a significant input into developments there," Westgarth said. "Whilst we do have issues to raise, we're still very supportive of a project that is worthwhile."
Westgarth also listed the effect of the Bail Act and the delays in DNA analysis which are slowing down the criminal justice system as issues he will be focusing on this year.
Prior to becoming a partner at HWL Ebsworth in 2008, Westgarth was the managing partner at Dudley Westgarth and Co (now Corrs Chambers Westgarth).
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