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Commissioner Update - December 2021

Commissioner update

In this issue:

  • Office closure – 24 December to 10 January
  • New resources for targets, witnesses of sexual harassment
  • Join Former Socceroo, Craig Foster AM, Attorney-General, Jaclyn Symes and Fiona McLeay at the 2022 Legal Laneway Breakfast
  • New podcast series to help lawyers minimise risk
  • Cyber awareness essentials
  • Registrations open for Victorian Law Week 2022

As we come to the end of another year, and the easing of most restrictions for the majority of Victorians who are vaccinated against COVID-19, it’s a great time to reflect and take stock of the year just gone.

Considering our wellbeing

For many of us this was another gruelling year presenting plenty of professional and personal challenges. As we start to return to a more normal life, we should consider how the pandemic has impacted us, and whether there’s anything we can and should do to support our wellbeing.

Although it can be difficult at times, we all have an obligation to monitor our own wellbeing and make adjustments if we feel overwhelmed or unwell. As lawyers, I don’t need to remind you of the obligations you have to your clients to provide quality services. Unfortunately, here at VLSB+C we have seen the detrimental consequences for clients and lawyers alike when unwell lawyers continue to battle on and try to provide legal services to their client. I encourage you to think about whether you need any additional support and take steps to address this if you do. The LIV and the Victorian Bar have excellent resources that any lawyer can access, including Member Counselling Service where you can access free 24/7 support and counselling.

Crowdfunding and public comments

As leaders within the community, we also have an obligation to be aware of how our public comments will be interpreted by others. We should be careful how we frame our public comments and the language that we use, particularly around issues that are generating controversy.

In particular, lawyers should think carefully about publically encouraging the community to pursue cases or actions that do not have merit, or are unlikely to succeed at court. If you see a colleague making comments that are inflammatory, or encouraging legal action that does not have merit, then please call this out. The reputation of the legal profession depends on all lawyers behaving with the utmost integrity.

Crowdfunding has the potential to meet the gaps between traditional funding options and is a legitimate way to enable people to have access to justice. However a balance needs to be struck between enabling people who may otherwise not be able to afford, or access the justice system, with ensuring the matter is run with the best interests of the clients.

In particular:

  • The client should be provided with clear and timely advice to make an informed decision about the direction of the case and the actions taken. So where the case has very little chance of success this needs to be disclosed.
  • Problems may arise where a lawyer is hosting or running the crowdfunding campaign themselves. Where we see potential for regulatory action is where there exists an appearance of, or an actual conflict of interest, and where the conduct of the lawyer might bring the reputation of the profession into disrepute.
  • Informed consent, fee agreements addressing issues such as when there is a surplus or shortfall of funds, having fees in trust accounts and returning surplus fees to the clients following the conclusion of the matter are all key issues we consider with lawyers undertaking crowdfunding of matters.

The Law Council of Australia has comprehensive guidance on crowdfunding for legal cases and what you should consider. I strongly encourage you to read this guidance before embarking on any crowdfunding arrangements.

Finally, I’d like to wish everyone a safe and relaxing holiday. The last two years have been incredibly hard for all of us and I, for one, am looking forward to taking a few weeks off to relax and recharge over Christmas. I hope that all of you are making similar plans.

Be well,

Fiona McLeay
Board CEO + Commissioner

Our office will be closed from 24 December

Our office will be closed from 5pm Friday 24 December and will reopen on Monday 10 January.

LSB Online will remain available, however we will not be processing any enquiries or applications over this period. Please use the lawyer enquiry form to lodge any queries and we will respond after 10 January.

New resources for targets, witnesses of sexual harassment

We have published new resources on our website for people who experience or witness sexual harassment in Victoria’s legal sector.

These resources contain practical guidance about what people can do at the time, or in the immediate aftermath of experiencing or witnessing sexual harassment.

The guidance is primarily designed for law students, PLT students and early career lawyers, but may also be of value to lawyers at any stage in their careers.

These resources, together with the anonymous online reporting tool we launched in September, are key elements in our regulatory strategy to build knowledge, skills and leadership on this issue in the legal sector.

Sexual harassment reporting tool

Since the launch of the sexual harassment reporting tool we have received six reports of sexual harassment via the tool. Of those six reports, three people have provided their identity and two cases have progressed to formal complaints. These are reports that we received in addition to reports via our usual channels.

One of our reporters recently told us that when they were harassed they didn’t know where to turn, but the reporting tool made telling their story more accessible.

Access a range of sexual harassment resources, and find out how to lodge a formal complaint or an informal report on our dedicated sexual harassment complaints page.

Celebrate the new legal year at the Virtual Legal Laneway Breakfast

The Victoria Law Foundation will celebrate the start of the legal year at their 19th annual Legal Laneway Breakfast.

Hear from an outstanding line-up of speakers, including former Socceroo Craig Foster, the Attorney General, Jaclyn Symes, and our Board CEO and Commissioner Fiona McLeay, about the important issues for the legal profession in the year ahead.

The event will be held online on Wednesday 2 February 2022, from 8.00am.

Everyone working in Victoria’s legal sector is invited to attend from wherever they may be, to mark the opening of the legal year.

Register today

New Podcast series from LPLC

The LPLC has launched a new podcast series. More Than Knowing the Law explores how to minimise risk in legal practice through building good business culture and approaches.

In each episode LPLC’s Chief Risk Manager, Heather Hibberd, and an expert guest share stories and provide insights and practical tips to manage risk through better practice management.

The three episodes released to date have covered cyber security —not just a technology risk, small firms, big changes and the impact of COVID, systems for success — driving a culture of good work habits.

Listen via or subscribe to More Than Knowing the Law wherever you get your podcasts.

Cyber awareness essentials – short helpful videos from LPLC

To help lawyers boost their awareness of and defences against cyber fraud, the LPLC has produced a series of six short videos that underline the key aspects of cyber security in a legal practice setting.

The videos cover email compromise and verification of bank account details, warning clients about cyber risk, demystifying multifactor authentication, cyber awareness training and tips for staying vigilant, and preparing a plan to respond in the event of a cyber incident.

The Cyber Awareness Essentials video series is available on the LPLC website.

Registrations are open for Victorian Law Week 2022

Victorian Law Week will take place 16 – 22 May 2022.

Victorian Law Week is a chance to help Victorians understand their rights, find answers to their questions, know what help is available and how our legal system works.

Running a Victorian Law Week activity is a great way to connect with your local community, and deliver valuable and accessible information to address everyday problems.

Submissions are now open. Visit the Victorian Law Week website to find out how you can get involved.


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