Hearsay ... the Journal of the Bar Association of Queensland
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Letter to the Editor: The World is Our Oyster Print E-mail

world_oyster_intro.jpgWe welcome this our first "letter to the editor", at least in our time. We extend our wish that many more may follow, in the interests of the Bar.   

The Queensland Bar is at a crossroad. This provides new opportunities.

On 6 February 2013, the President, Mr Traves SC, opined in his “Report to Members” that the environment in which we practise is ever changing, principally in response to challenges which have been with us for some time. If members have not read this report, I encourage them to do so.

There were four valid reasons identified for this change. They were:

1. increasing competition for advocacy and opinion work;

2. more mediation and less litigation;

3. in some areas, limited appearance rights; and

4. a contraction of legal aid.

As to the first reason, it is apparent that the competition is coming from a number of sources. It is not just from the emergence of national and international legal firms, but also barristers from interstate and overseas. I am not advocating that competition should be seen as a negative.

There are other reasons that can be advanced for the contraction and, in some respects, evaporation of work available to members of our Bar. These include the lack of any effective “branding strategy” of the Queensland or Australian Bar, which needs to be addressed. This is in stark contrast to the branding strategies successfully adopted by many large national and international legal firms. I commend, for reading, the editorial and article “Branding Barristers” in the March 2013 edition of “Hearsay”.

The President also aptly noted in his Report to Members that:

“It would be wrong to ignore the participation of international legal firms in our legal market.” (emphasis added)

I commend the positive initiatives of the Bar Council and their efforts to address the challenges faced by our Bar.

My view is that one way to meet the challenges we face, as members of the Queensland Bar, is to start by appreciating and focusing on the fact that a “market” can have various dimensions. One can identify a market by reference to geographical boundaries. Economists often refer to “the geographical dimension of a market”.

Having appeared in several jurisdictions outside of Australia, as Australian overseas counsel, my view is that the initiatives proposed to date should be complemented by other initiatives.

The Bar Council should be applauded for exploring the pursuit of mediation and arbitration work for members in South-East Asia, particularly Singapore. However, the pursuit of such work for the Bar, outside Australia, should not be so limited in terms of the nature of the work or the location.

Given the economic growth, population and demand for legal services in many countries in the Asia-Pacific region, it is common sense that we should concentrate on espousing the benefits in the region of retaining members of the Queensland Bar, not only for appearance work, but also important advisory work.

From my experience, one of the great advantages of the Queensland Bar is its proximity to countries in the Asia-Pacific region and the positive associations established with people in the region.

Justice has no boundaries and it would be wrong, for so many reasons, not to appreciate the benefits to members of the Queensland Bar in advising and appearing in matters overseas. There are obvious professional and other benefits associated with being briefed in those matters, such as cultural enrichment.

It should be considered as a great honour and privilege to appear, as I do, as an advocate from the Queensland Bar in overseas countries.

Members at the Queensland Bar should have the aim for our Association being one of, if not, the leading Bar Associations in the Asia-Pacific region. We cannot achieve any such aim unless a significant number of our members have a strong presence in the region, no matter how successful our members are in Queensland. There should be a plan to achieve this aim. There is already a presence of members of the judiciary, from Queensland, in a number of countries in our region.

Unless we, as a Bar, actively explore and facilitate the pursuit of work overseas, we will do a great disservice to our members. We will run the risk of being isolated and considered a provincial Bar, albeit made up of advocates of very high standing.

The landscape in which we practise has evolved and will continue to do so. There are many positive opportunities and initiatives that can be taken. The path we take is a matter for us.

Mal Varitimos
12 April 2013


The UK Bar Council's publication "Barristers in the International Legal Market" provides further reading on this topic.

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