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From the president: 2020 challenges bring rewards

From the president: 2020 challenges bring rewards

By Sam Pandya

COVID-19 Opinions 

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This year of uncertainty meant we had to be flexible, open-minded, resilient and compassionate.

Coming into 2020, I was excited about contributing to the advancement of the profession and engaging with members. Like most, my plans revolved around face-to-face meetings and events. On LIV Council since 2015, I had met and heard from many members with ideas and thoughts on how the LIV could better represent its membership. My 2020 focus was to promote value for members, highlight the importance of professionalism and to advance diversity, particularly cultural diversity.

In January, we saw dramatic scenes of holidaymakers stranded on the beach in Mallacoota waiting for boats to rescue them from rapidly approaching bushfires. In the aftermath of the bushfire emergency affecting East Gippsland, North East Victoria and surrounds, the legal profession supported regional communities with an inundation of offers from members following the LIV’s call for support through Disaster Legal Help. The LIV was proud to donate proceeds from its State of the Profession event in February to the Bushfire appeal. This period was an opportunity for lawyers to show professionalism by supporting the community in a time of emergency. Many of us did so without hesitation.

Previous LIV presidents warned me that each president usually has to deal with one important issue or crisis during their year. I thought the bushfire emergency was mine. But in March it became clear the bushfires were just a precursor to a major health and economic crisis that would lead to profound changes to our profession and society. Since then we have lived with uncertainty and needed to be flexible, open-minded, resilient and compassionate as we managed health restrictions and the needs of clients and colleagues. Most of us are working differently to the way we did at the start of 2020 and it is a credit to our professionalism that we have moved so effectively to remote practice in such challenging circumstances. Our professionalism was exemplified by working collaboratively with courts, government, the Attorney-General and others to ensure practices continued and the profession maintained its commitment to access to justice for the community. The LIV’s appearance at the Parliamentary Accounts and Estimates Committee in May demonstrated our strong reputation and standing in the community. More than 200 submissions and 60-plus media appearances ensured members’ voices were heard and we successfully influenced COVID-19 emergency legislation and regulations around delivery of legal services during the pandemic. Our advocacy resulted in the implementation of 80 per cent of our recommendations into legislation, helping shape the law for the benefit of all.

In the midst of the crisis, I’m proud of the LIV board’s unprecedented decision to reduce the LIV’s annual membership fee for 2020-21 by around 80 per cent to $99. It gave crucial, timely support to members, while at the same time we maintained and expanded online services such as the COVID-19 hub, free webinars and seminars, FAQs to understand the ever-changing health directives and mental health support with the EAP.

My passion for advancing diversity, in particular cultural diversity, meant I ensured it remained a key focus in 2020. Among many lessons, the COVID-19 crisis taught us the importance of ensuring the profession responds to community needs, engages with and reflects it at all levels, and draws on the talents and experiences of our multicultural community. This inspired me to create the Network of Culturally Diverse Association Presidents, bringing together 13 groups to work together to create change. Working collaboratively with the Victorian Legal Services Board CEO and Commissioner Fiona McLeay, I championed the collection of cultural diversity data from legal practitioners for the first time in Victoria. The LIV also collected cultural diversity data from student and graduate members. We delivered cultural diversity panel events at our Conference of Council in February and put a spotlight on the issue with strong media coverage in October. This focus has culminated in the December publication of my paper, “Positive Action, Lasting Change” (see p11), which recommends law firms take ownership of advancing cultural diversity by collecting and reporting employee data every two years.

It has been a privilege to lead the profession through such a challenging year, and we should all be encouraged by the way we have worked together, sharing ideas, knowledge and resources to make us stronger. 2021 is likely to hold new challenges, but we should feel confident in our ability to work through them together for the benefit of clients and the community. Thank you to all members, directors, staff and our CEO for your support, your kind messages and efforts throughout the year. Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2021. ■

Sam Pandya
LIV PRESIDENT

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