Monday, 31 January 2022

Commencement of the 2022 Legal Year

The ongoing resilience of the ACT legal profession was in focus today at the ceremonial sitting to mark the commencement of the 2022 legal year. The ceremony was held online, in a first for the local profession, who normally gather in person at the ACT Supreme Court to formally welcome the new legal year.

ACT Law Society President Elizabeth Carroll closed the ceremony with a speech about reflecting on past challenges and preparing for the future.

“We have all seen enormous shifts in the way we provide legal services, with remote and digital options becoming embedded in our lives. Today’s event is a perfect example of this,” said Ms Carroll.

The president also drew attention to the ongoing funding shortfall in the community legal sector.

“The pandemic created an uptick in demands for legal services, particularly in the community legal sector. This sector is accustomed to being expected to do more with less, but the need continues to rise, and funding is not keeping pace. The Society supports more long term approaches to sustainable funding in the sector. Pro Bono work can only fill in so many gaps, especially when those gaps continue to get larger every year.”

The full speech is available below.


The commencement of the legal year is traditionally a time to reflect on the past twelve months and look to the coming year. Last year many were optimistic that with the passing of 2021 a new bright, cloudless horizon would dawn before us. In fact, 2021 continued to present stormy weather at every turn.

When the ACT lockdown was announced, I was attending an online seminar about grief in the context of Covid-19 and how ultimately, like the pandemic, grief is not a linear process with a clear end date.

2022 looks to be offering us similarly inclement weather. So, it may instead be more realistic to accept that challenges will arise and to seek to prepare for the future.

As former US President John F. Kennedy said:

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

I recently spoke on a panel about top emerging challenges for the next five years, along with Jennifer Moltisanti, Assistant Commissioner at the Australian Taxation Office and Jason Borton, Executive Branch Manager at the ACT Education Directorate.

Five issues emerged from that discussion: the rapid pace of change, the concept of doing more with less, the need for leadership to suit the times, declining trust in authority, and increasing expectations of accountability.

It is interesting to look at these five issues and consider how they might apply to the legal profession, with a view to preparing for what lies ahead.

The pace of change

While we may have thought the pace of change was rapid pre-pandemic, the covid response has accelerated this.

We have all seen enormous shifts in the way we provide legal services, with remote and digital options becoming embedded in our lives. The Courts have reflected these approaches and today’s event is an example of this.

This year, we will also see significant change in this Court with the retirement of Chief Justice Murrell. We look forward to appropriately marking Her Honour’s important and invaluable contribution at the appropriate time.  

Doing more with less

The pandemic created an uptick in demands for legal services, particularly in the community legal sector. This sector is accustomed to being expected to do more with less, but the need continues to rise, and funding is not keeping pace. The Society supports more long term approaches to sustainable funding in the sector. Pro Bono work can only fill in so many gaps, especially when those gaps continue to get larger every year.

Leadership to suit the times    

An evolving situation calls for a different style of leadership to suit the times.

We’ve seen a range of new support mechanisms put in place by our local firms, including new ways to stay in touch with staff and to support their physical and mental health.

Here at the Law Society, we called our sole practitioner members to check in with them, knowing that, as small businesses, they had fewer supports available to them. Although we don’t get specific information about how our free counselling service is used, I hope it helped our members through what continues to be a stressful couple of years.

Speaking on behalf of the solicitors in the local legal profession, we are grateful for the support shown by the Chief Justice in Her Honour’s letter provided to the profession regarding the lockdown and ongoing situation, recognising the difficulties many were facing and continue to experience. 

Declining levels of trust

Decreasing levels of trust in government and traditional sources of authority have been discussed for many years, and the covid lockdowns and restrictions brought these debates even more frequently into the national media.

The efforts of our Courts to continue to serve the community despite the challenges of lockdowns and restrictions should be commended. The importance of the Courts as highly trusted institutions within our community can never be underestimated, and should continue to be supported.

Increased expectations of accountability

The pandemic brought about a new level of government involvement in our daily lives, and public expectations of accountability appear to have increased correspondingly.

This Court and the legal profession in the ACT play an important role in ensuring actions taken by government at all levels comply with legal requirements. Looking at the erosion, or complete breakdown, of the rule of law in other countries, we must ensure that our systems are robust enough to prevent that ever happening here.

Poet Amanda Gorman captured the essence of the times in her poem composed for the beginning of 2022, New Day’s Lyric, when she said:

So let us not return to what was normal,
But reach towards what is next.

With an awareness of these future trends, we can be prepared to face whatever 2022 brings.

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