The NSW Bar Association’s Annual Report 2015 highlights how the organisation has tackled challenges over the past 12 months, including regulatory changes, lawyers' wellbeing and the aftermath of the Sydney siege.
NSW Bar Association president Jane Needham SC said that over the course of the year there have been a number of changes in the legislative landscape under which barristers in NSW practise.
“The most significant of those, the National Legal Profession Uniform Law, came into effect on 1 July [...] Those efforts are the culmination of some eight or nine years’ work.”
The Legal Profession Uniform Law (Uniform Law) was created to standardise practising certificates, billing arrangements, complaint-handling processes, professional discipline issues and continuing professional development.
The NSW Bar Association also took on the question of work-life balance. Ms Needham proudly wrote about the Bar’s childcare initiative, which was launched in August 2014.
Under the initiative, the Bar Association guarantees 10 places per day at a ‘state-of-the-art’ centre in Martin Place.
Meanwhile, Ms Needham announced the Best Practice Guidelines, which were launched in June 2014, are currently the subject of review after their first year of operation.
The Best Practice Guidelines are a framework for legal bodies to operate in with regard to ensuring the psychological health and wellbeing of staff.
“Currently, 31 chambers have adopted the guidelines, some in amended form, and some as drafted by the Bar Association. I hope that more chambers will take the opportunity to adopt them,” Ms Needham SC said.
Further to the wellbeing of their staff, the confidential counselling service BarCare had a busy year following the Sydney siege, where a gunman took hostages at a busy cafe in the city centre.
“In 2014 the Bar faced a significant challenge: the impact of the Sydney siege at the Lindt Café and the loss of one of our members, Katrina Dawson,” Ms Neeham said. “The siege has had a lasting impact on many members.”
Following the Sydney siege, BarCare arranged for a psychologist to conduct debriefing sessions in chambers, provided phone counselling and urgent counselling sessions outside the usual business hours.
BarCare saw a 38.6 per cent year-on-year increase in the use of its services, from 57 times in 2013-14 to 79 times 2014-15.
Of the 79 times BarCare services were utilised, 21.5 per cent were psychological based, 19 per cent were regarding stress/anxiety and 19 per cent were related to the Sydney siege.
Increasingly, the barristers using BarCare services are younger and in earlier stages of their career, which possibly reflects the changes in educational experiences, according to the report.
Barristers are also increasingly self-aware, with the percentage of cases being self-referred increasing from 38.6 per cent in 2013-14 to 60.8 per cent in 2014-15.
In a change of tune, the report sought to justify its work in light of negative media coverage.
The report found that: "The Bar Association attracts negative comments from some commercial media outlets as a result of its opposition to populist depictions of the judiciary and justice system."
The report also stated: "It may be unfashionable in these days of media soundbites and social media, but the Bar Association will continue to seek to provide an objective source of information on our legal system and uphold the essential legal principles on which our democracy is based."
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