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The Law Society of New South Wales President shares her personal narrative of visiting the city of Lismore, 10 weeks after floods devastated the region


I’d seen images of the Lismore floods and heard the terrible stories of its aftermath. But little could prepare me for what I witnessed yesterday of how this disaster continues to affect the local community.

The faces of trauma, the fatigue of reality and the anxiety felt whenever a raindrop is heard was visible and visceral.

Together with the Law Society’s CEO Sonja Stewart and the CEO of Lawcover Kerrie Lalich, I travelled to Lismore. We had the privilege of being invited by the President of the Far North Coast Regional Law Society Stephen Pinchin, Secretary Lauren Edwards and Treasurer Sean Radburn.

These representatives of the local profession, along with more than 20 local practitioners, demonstrated a determination and spirit of collegiality in the face of the challenges they’re confronting as a result of the floods. After all, many of the practices are in one the worst affected areas of Lismore, the CBD.

Ten weeks after floods ravaged Lismore and surrounding communities, we witnessed firsthand the devastation, both physical and mental.

Law practices remain gutted. The stench of mould pervades files. Despite this, practitioners continue to give their best to uphold their duty to the courts and clients, keep staff employed, liaise with landlords and contemplate futures.

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(Left to right) Sonja Stewart, Sean Radburn, Jim Fuggles and Joanne van der Plaat. Photo: Samantha Cilia

I was moved by the commitment of practitioners to capture and share the lessons learnt from their hardships so that others who might face natural disaster would not have to go through the same difficulties.

I personally thank those who shared their very personal stories with us for their generosity. To see practitioners smiling, despite the hardships they’ve endured, was testimony to the collective strength of our profession. Strength drawn from within and from and each other.

The visit also provided me with an opportunity to share a recent significant decision of the Law Society Council to support those Lismore flood-affected private practitioners. The suport package includes fee relief, an offer of business recovery advice through an expert third party, as well as advocacy to Government and Heads of Jurisdiction on specific matters raised with the Law Society.

The Lawcover CEO was also able to advise of the roll out of its Financial Hardship Policy, which enables significant premium relief for insureds.

I was moved by the commitment of practitioners to capture and share the lessons learnt from their hardships so that others who might face natural disaster would not have to go through the same difficulties. The Law Society will take up the suggestion to develop business continuity resources for the profession, informed by the lessons from this disaster.

We were also encouraged as a Law Society to reflect on our own response so we will be better prepared to help other members who find themselves dealing with a natural disaster in the future. We were privileged to listen. Now it’s our duty to act.

The Lismore floods have largely disappeared from our news feeds, but the devastation remains. The rebuilding of the community and businesses progresses slowly. The lawyers we met in Lismore made a point of asking us to share these images showing the impact on some of the practices we visited. The destruction is clear. Amid the devastation, practitioners are still trying to deliver to their clients. If you are working on matters with practitioners from flood affected areas, I ask you for patience and understanding. These practices need space and opportunity to try to recover their clients and businesses.

If you know someone from the affected region, worked with someone previously in a firm or on a case, or met them at a conference, please drop them a line or pick up the phone. We are a caring profession and a supportive check in means so much.

Finally, my thanks to our CEO Sonja Stewart who assisted me with bringing this important issue to your attention.

If this article has caused you distress, help is at hand. The Law Society of NSW’s Solicitor Outreach Service (SOS) connects NSW solicitors to confidential, psychological support. Call the Solicitor Outreach Service on 1800 592 296 for access to up to three psychological sessions per financial year, paid for by the Law Society of NSW, and 24/7 telephone counselling with a psychologist if you are in crisis or distress. If you or someone else’s life is in danger, phone 000 immediately.