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The longest-serving Chief Executive Officer of the Law Society of NSW, Michael Tidball, has announced he will hand over the reins to the state’s peak legal body at the end of the 2020 financial year.

Michael Tidball has held the position of CEO for 14 years, during which time the number of solicitors in NSW has grown from about 21,000 to more than 35,000. Law Society membership numbers have continued to increase throughout his tenure, despite other law societies around Australia reporting declining figures in recent years.

“I have a lot of sorrow in leaving, but I am particularly proud of the achievements we have made as the peak legal body in NSW, and the largest state law society in Australia,” Tidball told LSJ.

“The Law Society of NSW has retained strength through high membership take up, and this has enabled our committees and members of the legal profession to continue their essential work as highly regarded government advisors, fearless advocates for the rule of law, and experts in the dynamics of the changing profession.”

Tidball, who has also served as Secretary-General of LAWASIA for more than five years, will conclude his Law Society tenure around 30 June to take up the position of CEO of the Law Council of Australia. He announced his resignation on 16 March, prior to the unprecedented challenges of the escalating COVID-19 crisis. He agreed his final weeks at 170 Phillip Street could be the busiest and most important yet.

“The President and I have been in the COVID-19 ‘war room’ since the crisis started,” Tidball said.

“We are working tirelessly to provide support and information for our members. I recognise this is a time of enormous uncertainty and distress across the profession, and there will be profound disruptions to work, communications, economic uncertainty, as well as the human cost. The Law Society is doing all it can to provide information and support.”

Tidball emphasised the importance of maintaining a strong legal profession to provide oversight, guidance and protection for the rule of law while many legal services, including court hearings, halted or went online to improve social distancing measures. This was even more important, he said, at a time when legislation was being rushed through parliament that could risk encroaching too far on civil rights.

“At times when society is strained, that is when it is more important than ever to have a strong legal profession. The profession needs to stand together to protect independence, civil liberties, the rule of law and our Australian way of life,” he said.

The Law Society of NSW President Richard Harvey announced the news of Tidball’s resignation in an email to the profession and thanked Michael for his outstanding contribution to the Law Society, the legal profession and the wider community. He said the CEO would be sorely missed.

“While I am incredibly sad to see Michael depart, I respect his decision to accept this new appointment – he goes with the Law Society Council’s gratitude for his tireless efforts and contribution,” Harvey wrote.

“Michael will leave the Society in a strong financial position, with a robust membership and a clear business strategy.

“A change of CEO leadership will be a vital step for the future of the Society and the opportunity for further growth and enhancement of what is one of the most resilient and highly regarded legal associations in the world.

“I wish Michael every success in his new role at the Law Council of Australia.”