Speaking recently on The Lawyers Weekly Show, new Australian Bar Association president Jennifer Batrouney QC explained that maintaining the highest level of expertise among barristers, and ensuring adequate levels of social support for those at the bar, are to be front of mind for the national advocacy group this year.
One the areas that ABA is constantly working on, Ms Batrouney said, is education among practitioners, which barristers and bar associations must be diligent with.
“One way we can do that – with an eye to the small bar [associations] who don’t have the resources that the big ones like NSW, Queensland and Victoria do – is through podcasts on how to be a barrister, [explaining] the advocacy skills, put them on our website for free for our members,” she said.
Broader education for those at the bar will be particularly important, she noted, in the wake of the banking royal commission. The findings from that inquiry have highlighted the need to continuously look at professional standards and ethical frameworks, she said.
“We can start a conversation about what is the right thing to do, particularly as we are so valued by the judiciary for our independence and integrity. That’s our brand, and that is what sets us apart so far as the judiciary is concerned from the rest of the profession,” she said.
“Barristers are particularly relied upon to be full and frank in their disclosures and their conduct, and I think that’s where the conversation can happen.”
Part of that education discussion must involve considerations of wellbeing, Ms Batrouney added.
“The wonderful thing about the bar is there’s really high ‘highs’ but there are also really low ‘lows’, and our colleagues are very good at that sort of thing, but I think we could have a more focused look at looking out for each other,” she reflected.
“All the bars around Australia have well-resourced programs where barristers are able to access 24/7 confidential counselling, but I think a lot more informal [conversations such as saying], ‘Hi, how are you, how are you feeling today, do you want to have a coffee’, and keeping an eye out on your colleagues, would be a great program to encourage throughout the bars.”
This will be especially important for older males at the bar, she mused.
“It seems to me, although I have no empirical evidence, that the bar is ageing, and that our focus should look at men at the bar and their wellbeing. I can’t speak for men, but as I understand it, men do find it difficult to talk about stress and those sorts of issues.”
To listen to the full podcast episode of our conversation with Jennifer Batrouney, QC, click here.