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New challenges facing government lawyers, from modern slavery to the implications of cancelled projects and high-profile Royal Commissions, were discussed at the sold-out annual Government Solicitor’s Conference.

Hosted by the Law Society of NSW, the conference on September 3 brought together 300 solicitors from all tiers of government, with a healthy showing of federal, state and local government practitioners.

Law Society of NSW President Elizabeth Espinosa said the conference sessions offered targeted and optimistic advice to assist practitioners to navigate the increasing complexity of government work in an ever-changing landscape.

“In the diversity of [the conference] topics we see something of the complex and rapidly evolving world our solicitors in the government segment are confronted with every day,” she said.  “The Law Society is your ally as you rise to meet these challenges.”

The day began with a keynote address from NSW Crown Solicitor Karen Smith, who explored present “mega-trends” concerning government including an ageing population, a growing social consciousness and the shift in the global economy. Smith detailed how law could be used to deliver social change and meet the demands of citizens, now referred to as “customers” in the Service NSW system. She also recommended the government lawyers in the room harness data, emerging innovation and technology to assist them in decision making.

Elizabeth Espinosa, President of the NSW Law Society Elizabeth Espinosa, President of the NSW Law Society

“The Law Society is your ally as you rise to meet these challenges.”

The sessions that followed canvassed issues ranging from the implications for lawyers of state and federal modern slavery laws, tips on pro bono work, automated decision making and ethical legal practice.

For the first time, the conference hosted a subpoena “mock trial”, in which a local magistrate presided over a case concerning an unsuccessful application to subpoena material about an undercover police officer on the grounds of legitimate forensic purpose.

NSW Parliamentary Counsel Annette O’Callaghan, fresh from working on and drafting a record number of amendments for the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill (2019), gave practical advice on how to draft a Bill.  She offered nine practical suggestions to assist lawyers drafting legislation and discussed the challenges of ensuring sound policy development within tight deadlines.

The John Hennessy Legal Scholarship award was presented by the Law Society of NSW CEO Michael Tidball to Sophie Heithersay, solicitor from the NSW Department of Communities and Justice. The judges remarked on Heithersay’s highly commended work regarding access to technology by inmates.

Susai Benjamin from Revenue NSW won the Michelle Crowther PSM Excellence in Government Legal Service Award. Michelle Larin from the NSW Port Authority was recognised as highly commended.