Speaking last night at the Opening of Law Term Dinner, Law Society of NSW president Elizabeth Espinosa outlined the priorities for the member-based organisation for 2019. Those priorities, she said, should come as no surprise, given her background as a child of Spanish immigrants and the ethos ingrained in her by her parents of the importance of social responsibility.
“If you want to improve other people’s lives, and your own life, don’t sit on the sideline as an observer and critic. You have to get in there and get involved. If you want something you can achieve it by working hard,” she espoused, recounting what her parents taught her growing up.
Such teachings must inform how the NSW legal profession approaches its duties this year, Ms Espinosa argued.
“As a profession, solicitors do not sit back, observe, and become mere critics. We get involved – in representing our clients, in protecting the rule of law, and in promoting access to justice.”
In light of this, Ms Espinosa identified investing in solicitors as advocates, increasing focus on diversity and inclusion and helping bring an end to violence against women and children as being key priorities for the NSW-based legal profession this year.
It is in this vein that she said that part of preparing for the future involves investing in solicitors as advocates.
“We want to help solicitors be seen; to show that solicitors are at the forefront of advocacy – including in the higher courts – and are equipped to serve as future judges,” she said.
That upbringing is also influencing the Society’s continuing push on diversity and inclusion: “My upbringing and role models have taught me that inclusivity is the means to a truly thriving and prosperous society”, she mused.
“The concepts of socio-demographic and cultural diversity are crucial to genuine equality in the law. It should be no harder to attain success in the law just because someone didn’t go to a “well-regarded” high school or university. Class, racial and economic lines can be just as difficult to traverse as gender-based lines,” Ms Espinosa said.
“I am proud of my personal heritage and the fact I come from a non-English-speaking household. I want to see more people of diverse backgrounds thriving and succeeding in our profession. I want to ensure diversity is a help, not a hindrance, in achieving at the highest levels of the law.”
And on the question of the charitable ventures for 2019, Ms Espinosa noted she had chosen Our Watch – a national organisation dedicated to ending violence against women and children in Australia – as the supported charity for the society.
“I know people who are living the reality of domestic violence daily. I take this moment to mention one of our late solicitor members, Olga Edwards. Olga was 36 years old when she took her own life in December last year, only months after her two children, Jennifer, 13, and Jack, 15, were murdered by their father.”
“I have never understood why we, as human beings, hurt one another. Last year, 68 women – more than one woman every week – died at the hands of a violent partner or previous partner in Australia. This is unacceptable, and I want to change the story that we read in the media all too often,” she said.
2019 is a double election year for those in NSW, she reflected, and thus it “is a year in which we, as solicitors, must be vocal in advocating for law reform”.
“Democracy needs us. Peace and stability need us. Business needs us. Those seeking access to justice need us. We are a pillar of Australian society defending the rights of all,” Ms Espinosa posited.