11 December 2018

2018: Legal Year in Review

Published on 11 December 2018

It’s been an eventful year. From the Attorney-General announcing major changes to Family Law to former Justice Michael Kirby announcing his nuptials, 2018 has been busy. As the year draws to a close, Insights recaps highlights of the legal year that was.


Sweeping changes to Family Law announced

Prompted by findings that the family law system was experiencing delays of up to a year and a half, the Attorney-General announced sweeping changes designed to make the family law system more efficient. This includes merging the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit court into the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, which are currently ‘job-sharing’ the role of hearing family law cases. Up to 22,000 cases are filed across both courts each year.

“We have two parallel courts with different rules, forms, procedures. Individuals who are in the system get bounced around like Family Law footballs from one court to another, resulting in terrible outcomes for them”, said Attorney-General Christian Porter to ABC AM.

The announcement comes amid calls from the outgoing Chief Justice John Pascoe for a royal commission into Family Law to address, among other issues, a rise in violence involving children.

A full report from the Australian Law Reform Commission is due in March 2019.


True crime in our backyard: 27m downloads of Teacher’s Pet podcast

The Teacher’s Pet podcast captured the attention of Australians – and the world – reaching No.1 in the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Created by five-time Walkley Award winner Hedley Thomas, the podcast sheds light on a cold case dating back to 1982, regarding the unsolved murder of wife and mother-of-two Lyn Dawson. Despite findings by two coroners in 2001 and 2003 that Lyn Dawson was killed by her husband, Chris Dawson, the DPP declined to prosecute, citing insufficient evidence.

The podcast’s investigation generated fresh public interest. It also caused the NSW Police to establish Strike Force Southwood to investigate historical sexual assaults and student-teacher relationships at Sydney high schools. The podcast triggered a reconsideration of the case by the DPP, resulting in the recent arrest of Chris Dawson.

The popularity of podcast reflects public interest in legal investigations, and the processes and procedures involved. However, the podcast’s popularity also raises questions about jury objectivity, given the case is now so well known that some question whether the accused is capable of receiving a fair trial.


Legal business leaders gather for Roundtable

Recently, representatives from law firms, corporate and government legal departments, the College of Law, ALPMA and the Law Council of Australia met to discuss how to prepare for a rapidly changing legal profession.

All agreed that traditional law firm hierarchies – and indeed, the established approach to legal career progression – were disappearing, challenging by new business models, NewLaw firms, and professional services firms muscling into the legal market.

The way forward? Be the kind of lawyer not easily replaced, one armed with a practical understanding of business and leadership skills. This allows them to be seen as more than a technical specialist, and proactively anticipate legal issues a client might face. Otherwise, the profession risked ignoring its younger lawyers and their role in a changing legal landscape.

The full report is available here.


A year on from the plebescite, Michael Kirby makes it official

Former high court judge Michael Kirby initially announced he would boycott the same-sex marriage plebescite. Now his decision to vote ‘yes’, along with the votes of 7.8 million Australians, means he can legally marry his long-time partner, Johan van Vloten.

In a recent speech to Bond University students, Kirby revealed his plans to wed on the 50th anniversary of meeting his partner.

“Because we’ve been together now for 49 years and eight months, it just seemed a little artificial,” said Kirby to The Guardian. “It seemed a little late for the confetti. It also seemed to us a little bit patriarchal.

“We’ve ultimately decided that we are going to get married on the 50th anniversary of our meeting,” he said. “We’ll get married at home. The following night we will go back, on the Tuesday, because we met on a Tuesday, to what is now the Rex bistro. We will go back and ask for a table. Is that weird? No, I think it’s a bit romantic.”


Technology continues to disrupt the legal profession

According to the 2018 Mahlab Report, technology continues to be a major factor disrupting how the law is practised in Australia.

Legal technology has allowed new players to provide legal services, including non-law startups and the Big 4. This has put pressure on law firms to deliver a better value, more holistic service supported by alternative billing arrangements. Artificial Intelligence is increasingly used to provide better analytics, reporting of internal and client work, and to automate routine work like due diligence and contract reviews.

All of this automation and technology drove demand for specialist lawyers who can focus on higher-value work. In turn, lawyers tired of long hours increasingly prioritised flexible work arrangements, with many going in-house to achieve better work-life balance.

This has led the director of the Law Council of Australia to raise concerns around the potential ‘uberisation’ of law. More lawyers than ever are ditching offices altogether to operate entirely online, working from home, a local café or co-working space. Again, this is a development made possible by technology, and is likely to offer significant cost-saving implications for clients.


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