Introductory Speech to LIV Council – Rebecca Alexander 13 February 2020

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In 2019, SLM Director and Lawyer Rebecca Alexander was elected to Council of the Law Institute of Victoria (the peak body representing lawyers in Victoria). Her three year term commenced in January 2020 and she intends to ensure the interests of regional Victorians are properly represented in the legal industry.

Below is a copy of Rebecca’s introductory speech to the Law Institute of Victoria Council, which was given in February 2020.

It is my privilege to bring a little piece of regional Victoria to the LIV board room. I grew up on a dairy farm in the small town of Camperdown in South West Victoria, and my region is the heart of the dairy farming industry. I am grateful to my family and for the way growing up on the land influenced me. It gave the confidence to move 3 hours away from my family and friends to study law at 18 years old. It made me a realist and a problem solver. And it gave me grit and stubbornness in spades- so much so I’ve managed to find myself elected to LIV Council.

Following my admission in 2012 I returned home to practice having been offered a job at SLM Law (formerly known as Sewells Larkins McCarthy) with offices located in Camperdown, Colac, Cobden and Apollo Bay. Having had the benefit of excellent mentors, I became a director of the Firm in January 2017. A special thanks goes to my colleagues at SLM Law for allowing me to take this opportunity.

Like many country based law firms, our Firm has a proud history with over 100 years operating in the region. I’m honoured to be trusted to take our Firm forward and to celebrate its history.

It’s no surprise then that I intend to use my term on Council to go into bat for regional LIV members. Being a country based legal-eagle involves special skills, and certainly not ones that you are taught during your law degree. In my relatively short career as a lawyer so far, I’ve had clients who have been affected by flood, drought and, most notably, the Saint Patrick’s Day bushfires in 2018 which for some destroyed a lifetime of work in a matter of hours. Like too many other country lawyers, I experienced that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach when the fires were raging towards one client’s farm, only for the wind to change and for the fire front to turn towards the property of another client.

I am constantly impressed and challenged by the range of legal issues and the diversity of clients whose files hit my desk. I understand how tricky issues of conflict of interest can be, the incredible trust placed in us by our loyal client base, and the juggling act of seeing clients professionally and then running into them at the pub.

I’m here today because in 2019 I was given reason to worry that the LIV had forgotten about its country based LIV members. I was stunned to find out that there was an animal welfare working group under the LIV umbrella, hosting an event in our headquarters lacking balance (with presenters from the RSPCA, the Animal Justice Party and Animals Australia). I was angry that no country lawyers had been consulted in preparing a submission or providing evidence to a parliamentary inquiry into animal activism and its impact on agriculture. I was disappointed by the way these issues were handled by the LIV when my country based colleagues and I spoke out and expressed our frustration.

I do not accept that the LIV should take a stance when it comes to polarising political debates, irrespective of whether they involve left or right wing issues. There are plenty of other organisations out there for politically active lawyers to join. In our peak body we need to keep the ordinary fee paying members front-of-mind.

I will say that since my election, my colleagues around this table have been willing to take my feedback on board. We have established a new Regional Lawyers Reference Group, which provides an opportunity for our country members to contribute to policy. Importantly, our President and CEO have each made direct contact with members in North East Victoria and East Gippsland whose practices have been affected by bushfire. They have let those members know we are thinking of them, and they are asking the right questions about how the LIV can help.

Speaking more broadly, the LIV can work harder to make a practical difference to all of its members.

Let’s focus our attention on supporting lawyers with changing technology. Let’s work with the State Revenue Office, Land Titles Office and PEXA to streamline settlement processes and coordinate their online platforms. Let’s demand better support from the courts when they oblige us to use RedCrest and Citec for court filing. Let’s demand that the courts are properly staffed. Let’s teleconference the one hour LIV seminars held in the city to make them available to regional and suburban lawyers too. Let’s publish more articles in the LIV journal which assist us in our day to day practice.

Let’s work to shed the layers of overregulation we face as lawyers and improve the perception of lawyers in the broader community. Let’s have a representative body who stands up for us when conveyancing firms and other professionals less qualified than us trivialise our expertise and seek to further erode our bread and butter work.

I intend to make the most of my new role to provide meaningful support for the lawyers of Victoria. The ones who are ordinary, who are satisfied to go about their day to day legal business to help their clients and the ones who come with no frills, just like me.

– Rebecca Alexander B.A, LL.B. (Hons.) GDLP