I have no doubt many of you would have played more of a pastoral care role than you are usually used to in the pandemic. For this I say, on behalf of the NSW Government and on behalf of us all, thank you
Country solicitors are helping to decrease the stigma around mental illness by supporting their clients during “an extraordinarily tough time”, this year’s Rural Issues Day has heard.
The 2020 virtual event included sessions on retaining talent in the profession in regional areas, navigating hardship in a year of disaster and setbacks, and legal ethics for rural practice.
The keynote address was delivered by Bronnie Taylor, the NSW Minister for Mental Health, Regional Youth and Women, who thanked rural and regional practitioners for their increased “pastoral care” to clients in the aftermath of the drought, the horror bushfire season and the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The opportunity that has presented itself is that people are talking about mental health, they are talking about mental fitness and they are talking about the importance of a life-work balance,” Taylor said.
“We are seeing more people put their hands up for assistance, which is excellent. The more we decrease stigma, the more opportunity we have for people to put their hand up.
“As the Minister for Mental Health and coming from a rural area, I am absolutely passionate about ensuring that rural and regional areas have access to really good facilities, whether that be education, health … or legal services.
“I am sure that many of you as regional lawyers in the community are often the people who clients open up to … so you are an important and valued part of the ongoing conversation we are having in society about mental health.
“As [we] all know, rural and regional NSW have had an extraordinarily tough time in the last few years. Chances are people are at their most stressed and concerned when they have a legal problem and they are accessing a legal service.
“They often turn to you as someone that they trust and more importantly, someone they are seeking guidance from. I have no doubt many of you would have played more of a pastoral care role than you are usually used to in the pandemic. For this I say, on behalf of the NSW Government and on behalf of us all, thank you.”
The day featured leading speakers from across the profession, including Commissioner John McKenzie from the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner, Registrar Brett McGrath from the Family Court & Federal Circuit Court of Australia, and Kirsty Ruddock, the Director of Regulatory Investigations and Compliance at the Natural Resources Access Regulator.
President of the Law Society of NSW Richard Harvey acknowledged that “Rural Issues Day 2020 comes at a challenging time for many country solicitors”.
“In the past 18 months, regional solicitors have dealt with successive crises, including a wicked drought, a catastrophic bushfire season and a global pandemic,” Harvey said.
“The economic impact of these crises on our regional communities is enormous, affecting entire industries, towns and regions.
“Your success is inextricably linked to the wellbeing of your communities. Around 12 per cent of the state’s 36,000 solicitors live and work outside of our cities. The Law Society acknowledges your contribution and the leadership role you play in your communities. “