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Fraser, The Honourable Hugh --- "'Address' delivered at the Admissions Ceremony, Brisbane (QSC)" [2015] QldJSchol 42

Last Updated: 16 July 2015

Admission ceremony speech 2015

We welcome you to the Banco Court and congratulate you upon your admission as legal practitioners. You are entitled to savour this moment. It is a substantial achievement to complete your tertiary legal qualifications, to fulfil the additional requirements for admission as a legal practitioner, and to have that recognised by the Supreme Court.

We also warmly welcome your family and friends to the Banco Court. They are entitled to share your sense of achievement. I hope it doesn’t frighten them to suggest that you will probably continue to look to your family and friends for inspiration and support as you face the inevitable demands of your new careers.

The Court is confident that you know that your admission is a privilege which carries with it important obligations. Foremost amongst those obligations are your ethical duties. If you practise as a solicitor or barrister you will owe important obligations to your clients. But whether or not you practise as a lawyer, you now owe strict and inflexible ethical duties to the Court. Your ethical duties to the Court take precedence over any obligations you owe to a client, an employer, or anyone else.

Stick to the letter and spirit of all of your ethical duties through thick and thin, regardless of any short term pressures to the contrary. The most important reasons for doing so may be respect for the law and your own self-respect, but long experience teaches that an honest and ethical professional life coincides with self- interest; the straight and narrow path ultimately leads to the respect of colleagues and clients, enhancing your personal and professional reputation.

One reason for you to celebrate your admission may be an increase in your income. There is nothing wrong with aspiring to earn a good income for your professional hard labour, but we hope that you will always keep in mind that service to the public is of the essence of the legal profession.

An independent legal profession is essential for the maintenance of the rule of law. As the size and complexity of our society has grown, the common law of Australia has been modified, supplemented, and in some cases supplanted by legislation of the Federal and State parliaments and local governments. Some legislation, like much of the common law, is easily understood, but the web of regulations which governs us is now extensive and intricate. You already will know some of this law and, by assiduous attention to your continuing legal education, you will learn a great deal more in the years to come. By a dedicated approach to your work you can therefore assist in making good one of the fundamental assumptions upon which our democracy is based, that we can know the legal rules which we are obliged to obey.

However, legal work, especially litigation, can be very labour intensive. Lawyers’ fees are often out of the reach of many. Unfortunately legal aid is available to few. It is therefore pleasing to record that the Court very frequently sees respected legal practitioners devoting substantial time and expertise to giving legal assistance to those who cannot afford to pay a fee. This is not a complete solution to the problem, but it is meritorious and important. Hopefully you will adopt the same public spirited approach to your profession.

I do not for a moment suggest that a lawyer’s paid or charitable contribution to society is intrinsically more important than the similar contributions by others. But sometimes the work of lawyers is unfairly devalued by the suggestion that it is not constructive. If that ever concerns you, recall Sir Owen Dixon’s response to that criticism. He said of lawyers that “[i]t is not their business to contribute to the constructive activities of the community, but to keep the foundations and framework steady”.[1] It is impossible to regard that as unimportant work.

This is an important day for you. If my own experience is any guide, you will always recall your admission with pleasure. I hope that you do, despite having to put up with a judge telling you what you already know.

We again congratulate you upon your admission and extend our best wishes to you and your supporters.

Adjourn the court to ....

[1] Address upon taking the oath of office in Sydney as Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia on 21st April 1952. (Jesting Pilate at 249.)

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