Australian Lawyers Alliance 2016 National Conference Wrap-​up

The Australian Lawyers Alliance National Conference was held 19 – 21 October 2016. Our Queen Pixie, Leticia Mooney, was a speaker. In this article you’ll find a conference summary and wrap up, and some of our key notes and takeaways.

Well, perhaps ‘wrap-​up’ is too comprehensive. It is a summary of the elements that we found important, and includes commentary on why.

The location of the Australian Lawyers Alliance 2016 National Conference was to-​die for

The location for this year’s conference was the recently refurbished, five-​star Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas Resort. This resort was the first five-​star resort built in Australia. It was built by none other than the infamous Christopher Skase (probably with a lot of other people’s money!). It was quite simply stunning. The reason it was so good for a conference like this one is that everyone felt like they were on holidays.

Inside the foyer of the resort.
Inside the foyer of the resort.
The Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas Resort is a stunning resort of lagoons and buildings everywhere you look.
The view outside our conference venue.

Conference kick-​off

The conference opened with a welcome function on Thursday night, ahead of registration and kick-​off early on Friday morning.

If you’ve never heard of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, its history is that it was the professional association of personal injury lawyers in Australia. While there is still a strong focus on personal injury law, the ALA in truth has a much broader focus. It seeks to “promote and protect justice, freedom and the rights of the individual”.

Members of the ALA are deeply interested in (and involved in) social justice and human rights. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that the conference covered topics ranging from Australia’s legal position in relation to terrorism, to the ethics of cloud computing in law, to medical negligence.

While the conference was an opportunity for members of the ALA to get together and to learn, it was simultaneously relaxing. You might not be aware, but Brutal Pixie’s Director Leticia Mooney is a member of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, because she is so big on social justice. It’s part of the reason why we donate 1 per cent of total revenue to good causes like the donation-​only-​funded Environmental Defenders Office of South Australia.

Brutal Pixie's Director is a member of the Australian Lawyers Alliance: A group that is "for the people"
Pixies are super keen on social justice.

This year, Leticia was also a speaker on Day 1 of the conference.

Right at the beginning of the proceedings, the ALA’s Annual General Meeting was held. Because we were staying in the most magnificent venue, it was decided that it would be better to finish early than late. (More pool time — who’s going to argue with that?)

That AGM was the fastest AGM I have ever been involved in. One delegate behind me timed it at about 1 minute in duration. Fast, efficient, and complete.

Opening keynote delivered by Professor Gillian Triggs

The opening keynote was delivered by Professor Gillian Triggs, who at the time of writing is the President of the Human Rights Commission here in Australia. Everyone was happy to see Professor Triggs, because on Wednesday she was fired upon from all angles by the media, for an unfortunate error; and by Thursday morning it was looking like she might lose her role. If you missed that débâcle you should read this and this.

Professor Triggs’s keynote was one of the highlights of the conference. However, given she appeared on the condition of no media, we are not going to publish the details of that presentation. Suffice it to say that both her and her presentation were warmly received by the delegates. Professor Triggs is a remarkable woman.

The first session demonstrated the value of artificial intelligence in law

The session after the keynote included a talk by His Honour Judge John McGill SC, of the District Court of Queensland on Litigating an insurer’s rejection of a TPD claim. The acronym TPD stands for ‘total and permanent disablement’.

His Honour Judge McGill’s presentation mostly went over this pixie’s head. But it struck me during the presentation that much of the cross-​referencing in law is unnecessarily cumbersome. It is completely unnecessary human activity.

While law on the whole is freaking out about artificial intelligence, mistakenly construing it to be robots will take our jobs, the truth is much more empowering. It would stop so much of the unnecessary looking-​up-​and-​testing-​against-​cases work.

For example, let’s say you input the facts of a case, and select the legislation and regulations against which to test them, then while the software does its thing, your time could be better spent elsewhere, such as spent checking the resulting guide to the outcome. If such software then accepted notes, guidelines, rejections or acceptances, then the outcome of such cross-​referencing would learn to become smarter, and more in line with each lawyer’s own methodology. The wisdom of the lawyer then becomes an integral part of the functioning of the software.

There is so much opportunity in this space for properly valuing the human input of lawyers.

Disabilities, accessibility and the status of the National Disability Incentive Scheme

The National Disability Incentive Scheme/​National Injury Insurance Scheme update was invaluable for some of the data around how many Australians have disabilities. There are approximately 4.3 million people in Australia with disabilities. Of those people:

12% are aged 35 – 44

85% are aged 90+

5.8% have a severe disability.

The ageing population, the speakers Tony Kerin and Michelle James pointed out, will increase the number of disabilities in Australia.

As someone who was speaking later in the day on what digital accessibility means for Australia’s lawyers, this was an important introduction into the territory. Importantly, the NDIS Scheme was highlighted as being a significant way forward; not just in Australia, but in the world. South Australia, it transpires, is leading the nation in terms of the work being done to get the NDIS and the NIIS in place and working.

For lawyers, accessibility is extremely important. When you consider that 18 per cent of the country is a larger number of people than the population of Brisbane, accessibility becomes a very big deal.

Police accountability, compensation in personal injury, and digital accessibility

After lunch, the conference split into three streams. Of all 12 presentations, I caught one and presented one. It meant that I missed some fantastic works. One of them, Police Accountability in Australia, presented by a panel of three, I had particularly wanted to catch. At the time of writing, I haven’t yet had a chance to drill into the conference papers to get the detail.

The session I did catch was by Emma Reilly, partner at Moray & Agnew in the ACT. She presented a session titled Compensation issues in personal injuries cases (workplace). A fascinating (for me, anyway) presentation, Emma talked about apportioning liability in workplace injury cases. In doing so, she covered contributory negligence on behalf of workers, contractual indemnity provisions and their insurance implications, subcontractors, occupiers, labour hire employees, and head contractors.

As a business owner, given the Pixies are not lawyers, this session was invaluable for better understanding liability of parties in an employment context, when things go wrong. And for better understanding what contributory negligence is, and how it’s applied.

After lunch, I had 45 minutes to present a session on Digital Accessibility, and what it means for Australia’s lawyers. Rather than follow the paper slavishly, I presented the argument that Australia’s social justice lawyers — that is, members of the ALA — are perfectly placed to lead the nation in terms of accessibility issues. If access to justice is about inclusion, then accessibility is about an inclusion that also allows people to remain independent.

The session was very well received. The delegates who attended gained a super-​fast crash course on digital and access, and some new ways to think about it. Feedback post-​presentation has been remarkably good.

If you want a copy of that paper before we publish it here, please contact us and we’ll send you a copy.

The entertainment for the evening was a cover band. They were so good everyone danced.
The dance floor slowly filled.
The group convened for the conference dinner was enormous.
Dinner was an amazing evening.

And Friday evening was an incredible conference dinner and party. And Saturday was filled with even more fantastic speakers.

Saturday morning, after a late night, I turned up a wee bit late, only to discover that the session on Australia’s legal response to terrorism had been shifted around. The Annual Case Review, which is a rapid-​fire hour review of cases from the past year, which are relevant to the practitioners in the room, was moved from 9 to 10. This was ostensibly because the speaker, Nicholas Cowdery AM QC (NSW) had another engagement.

And so, I walked in towards what I thought was the end of the case review, straight into the final stretch of one talk I hadn’t wanted to miss. The end of it was enough to show me why. Walking in to hear that people in truly terrorism affected parts of the world have been surprised by the draconian laws that Australia has passed, I heard only the conclusion. In the concluding remarks, Cowdery pointed out that dealing with crime is not a war, and that one of the greatest tragedies of a nation concerned about liberty is to lose it. I’m looking forward to reading the paper.

Mid-​morning there were another set of three streams. Given it was a great opportunity to go and make new friends, I spent the first session doing just that. But the second session I spent listening to the remarkable presentation by the orthopaedic surgeon Professor Thomas Kossmann. His presentation was about medical negligence. Sounds like a dry topic? Not when it’s in Professor Kossmann’s hands. It was a really interesting walk through medical negligence in terms of establishing whether or not there is a case; and some of the things that can happen in spinal surgery in particular, and after other types of surgery, that can cause problems down the track.

Expert evidence session highlights problems in presenting & reporting

The first session after lunch, Expert evidence — a view from the Bench, was presented by The Honourable Justice Jim Henry QC of the Supreme Court of Cairns (Qld). His honour talked to us about the presentation of expert evidence. Crucially, he presented it from the position of his own view: A judge. Which is to say, as a non-​expert, lay person.

Of particular interest to me were a number of elements of the presentation, including:

  • that expert evidence needs to be presented with the audience in mind, without any assumption of prior knowledge
  • that jargon should be used where it’s warranted and needed, but that it must be explained
  • that expert reports require a particular shape and style
  • that figures, illustrations and photographs must be clear, clean, legible, and reproducible
  • among other things.

This is one area in which we at Brutal Pixie can really help you, especially when it comes down to readability for lay people. Contact us for a confidential discussion about what that might look like.

Ethics of cloud storage and other critical digital practices in law

And the final session for the day was on the ethics of cloud computing. Ethicist Neil Watt ran a speedy session through the key ethical issues of Software As a Service, cloud-​based product in the legal profession. He covered cloud, multiple devices, encryption, client permissions, device loss and many other things.

It was particularly pertinent given we at Brutal Pixie had just recently learned that digital marketers who purchase SEMRush on a group buy deal, and then save a site’s passwords in LastPass, make those details available to the entire group. Stay tuned for the case study we have on that!

Information security is a really big deal in law. And it’s a big deal when you’re dealing with your information assets, too. If you don’t have secure practices in-​house, then you will struggle dealing with third-​party vendors, because your due diligence will be lacking.

As content strategists, it’s an issue that we deal with. It’s not our specialty, but the handling of information, particularly in terms of governance and risk is absolutely within our capabilities. And at Brutal Pixie, our qualified auditors can assess how you stand up against international standards for handling personal and sensitive information. Contact us to learn more about that.

It was a remarkable way to conclude what was one of the year’s best events.

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