The Weekly LSA

The Weekly Bite 03

By Harry Stratford


Hello and welcome back to the third edition of the Weekly LSA’s the Bite. The Bite is a quick summary of the major legal headlines from the week that has been to make sure you’re up to date with the happenings, and can impress your friends with your knowledge.


A report into youth justice outcomes in the Australia Capital Territory was released this week giving insight into the progress of youth justice reform in the territory. An increased focus on early support, prevention and diversion of young people from the youth justice system is credited by the Youth Justice Taskforce.The report found that has been a 27 percent decrease in the number of people in youth detention since 2011-12. Additionally, there has been a 33 per cent decrease in the number of of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders under supervision in the youth justice system. An overall 37 per cent decrease was found in the amount of young people apprehended by ACT policing. While these numbers are encouraging and welcome steps in the right direction, the Youth Justice Taskforce was quick to acknowledge that “there is more work to be done” with the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in the youth justice system remaining a critical focus of the government.

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Oscar winning actor Geoffrey Rush will be awarded nearly $2.9 million after winning his defamation case against the Daily Telegraphs publisher Nationwide News. The allegations published were stories alleging that Rush behaved inappropriately towards his colleague Eryn Jean Norvill during the 2015-16 Sydney theatre Company season of King Lear. The highest defamation payout awarded in Australia to a single person included more than $1 million for past economic loss, $919,678 in future economic loss and $42,000 in interest. Rush’s barrister sue Chrystanthou informed the Federal Court that her client had offered to settle with Nationwide News for $50,000, an amount that pales in comparison to the historic eventual payment.

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Hourly rates are down for Lawyers using fixed fees, according to a report using data from 412 law firms from Smarter Drafter. The national shift away from time-based billing towards fixed fees has reportedly reduced the net hourly earnings and earning capacity of lawyers industry wide. The shift is thought to be driven by pressure from clients who are less willing to allow lawyers the liberty of charging by the hour. Director of Smarter Drafter David Lipworth has remarked that “Clients are going to continue to demand fixed fees, and over time, competition will drive down these fees”. This trend is concerning for law firms and lawyers alike, as law firms billing at least half of their work by the hour were shown to have higher profitability in The Pitcher Partners 2019 Legal Firm Survey. If more and more firms are pressured by clients to turn to fixed fee billing, firms will need to look to differentiating their value up front and explore automation to reduce costs and maintain profits. The move to automation has been explored by several firms, with the survey finding that those adopting human legal automation were “netting historically high equivalent hourly rates, up to $1000 per hour of work”. Are the robots taking over?

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The recent publishing of the Us too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession report by the International Bar Association has revealed that levels of bullying and sexual harassment in legal workplaces in Australia are “significantly higher” than the global averages. A concerningly high 73 percent of female respondents from australia and 50 percent of Male respondents reported that they had been bullied in connection with their legal employment. Global averages were significantly lower, with female and male lawyers around the world reporting having been bullied at rates of 55 percent and 30 percent respectively. Sexual harassment in Australian legal workplaces was also found to be considerably higher than global averages, with 47 percent of Australian female lawyers reporting sexual harassment in the workplace compared to the global average of only 37 percent. Male lawyers in Australia were similarly on the wrong side of the global average, with 13 percent reporting sexual harassment compared to 7 percent globally. In the report, the IBA hypothesised that the findings may give rise to a “perception paradox”, whereby countries in which both workplace bullying and sexual harassment are topical issues often report particularly high rates of bullying and sexual harassment, and as a result the reported rates may temporarily increase in the coming years as the global legal profession seeks positive change. In encouraging news, the report found that Australian legal workplaces are ahead of the international average when it comes to anti-bullying and sexual harassment training and are tackling the problem through education with 37 percent of Australian respondents to the survey reporting that their workplace hosts such sessions, compared to only 22 percent globally.

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Plaintiff firm Slater & Gordon has been hit with an unfair dismissal suit in the Federal Court of Australia. Daniel Sutherland has brought an action under the 2009 Fair Work Act against the firm, alleging he was dismissed in contravention of a general protection. The matter is set to be heard on the 3rd of July in the Queensland Registry of the Federal Court. In response to the suit, a spokesperson from Slater & Gordon told Lawyers Weekly that they “We pride ourselves on our ethical business practices and we meet all our regulatory obligations, including those related to disbursement funding. We have a good working relationship with all of our regulators.”  

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The 2019 ALPMA Australian Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey has revealed that firms are putting increased priority into employee attraction and retention strategies. According to the survey, 53% of law firms expect to grow in staff numbers this year, up from only 42% in 2018. An increased focus on retention strategies has resulted in 32% of law firms in australia now having paid parental leave entitlements “over and above government schemes to the primary caregiver”.  21% of the respondent law firms also provide additional parental leave to non-primary caregivers, usually in the range of one to two weeks. Salaries have also reportedly increased across the legal profession, with 765 of employees likely to receive a CPI or above increase, and 79% of firms offering bonuses this year. This was particularly prevalent in the Western Australian Firms, potentially due to firms being forced to compensate employees for their location.

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