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The past three years have shown Cassandra Banks the measure of her resilience – and it is that same work ethic and determination that the Law Society’s 2023 President is channelling in a purposeful year of priorities.

The journey to Cassandra Banks’ career at the fore of children’s law began with a teenage vow never to work with kids.

“My mum is a primary school teacher, and that’s what I always thought I would do,” the 2023 President of the Law Society of NSW tells LSJ over lunch at Azuma, a Japanese restaurant in Sydney’s CBD.

“And I was in about year eight or year nine of high school and I realised that [at that time] I didn’t really like children – so I thought being a primary school teacher was probably not going to work for me.

“I got to year 10, started legal studies and then it was clear that law was going to be my way forward.”

Banks meets with LSJ a few weeks into her one-year term as President; she notes she already has “less than 50 weeks left” to tackle a busy year of priorities ranging from the health and wellbeing of the profession, gender equity, boosting awareness of the care and protection system, advocating for increased diversion for vulnerable cohorts within the criminal justice system, and promoting opportunities in regional, rural and remote practice.

The thoughtfulness behind her priorities, and ties to her career thus far, are manifold. Many of her matters as Principal and Director of CB Legal in Coffs Harbour involve vulnerable young people, both those appearing in Children’s Court and as parties in care and protection cases. She also comes to her role in Phillip St as a proud country practitioner, with childhood memories of the smell of Mount Panorama burnt rubber, sheep and cattle over the back fence, and playing in paddocks until dark.

Bathurst-born, Banks and her family moved to Coffs Harbour when she was 12 years of age; her father pausing his career as a cartographer to support her mother, who was advancing her teaching career.

Thriving professionally in the regions is a family trait: Banks has served as Vice President and then President of the Clarence River and Coffs Coast Regional Law Society and as a member of the Law Society’s rural issues, family law, children’s legal issues, Professional Conduct, Audit, Risk and Finance and Disclosure committees.

“When we began doing more things virtually during COVID, ranging from court mentions to hosting events, I think it opened many people’s eyes to consider the unique and amazing opportunities of regional practice,” she says.

While responding to the challenges of COVID-19 was an obvious focus of the three most recent past Presidents; Richard Harvey in 2020, 2021’s Juliana Warner and last year’s President Joanne van der Plaat, Banks’s focus will be on harnessing the lessons, resilience and spirit of the profession during the pandemic and adapting them in this new recovery period.

“When COVID started, I was running a law firm, was Treasurer of the Law Society Council, doing the Australian Institute of Company Directors Course and I had a newborn baby – then my dad had a heart transplant,” she recalls.

“So, when I think back on that time, I think of my capacity to multitask and still function. I didn’t know I was that capable. And I think that is true for so many of us. Many lawyers and people in the community have learnt how strong we can be, and we have seen that you can still keep the wheels turning even through busy and challenging times.

“I remember sitting at the dining room table, calculating figures for the practice, to work out how to keep going. But I did. We all did.”

Today, Banks’ father is well and was part of a strong contingent of family, friends, colleagues and mentors at the Opening of Law Term Dinner on 1 February, where Banks outlined her priorities for the year in a stirring address.

Among those in the crowd was “the infamous Anne Beasley, who herself is a former Regional Law Society President” and someone who took an interest in Banks from the very start, once she graduated with a double degree in arts and law from the University of New England and started her career in regional firms.

“I was a brand-new practitioner and I was feeling a bit lost, and Anne reached out to me and that mentor role just started,” she says.

“Anne gave me guidance. I knew I could just ring her up and she would answer or call me right back. She would give it to me straight and she would give me good advice.

“And Anne is the reason I became involved with the Law Society in my first year of practice. At the Coffs Harbour Regional Law Society Annual General Meeting, for which I wasn’t even present, I got a phone call from her to tell me I had been elected as the young lawyer representative. She’s always just been there for me. I baked her 70th birthday cake and this year she will be celebrating her 81st birthday. Anne continues to practise law in Coffs Harbour.

“I also found my feet with Susan Green at her small firm in Coffs Harbour. Susan mentored, and at times terrified me, into the lawyer I am today.”

In 2018 Susan retired and Banks took over as sole Principal. In May 2021, Susan Green Legal Practice became CB Legal.

More than a decade spent working extensively in children’s law, particularly in the care and protection space, has left deep impressions on Banks regarding gaps in the current system.

There are more than 180 lawyers based in Coffs Harbour and only nine (now eight with Banks’ departure for a year to fulfil her term) practise regularly in the care and protection system.

“When I left Coffs to come to Sydney, I had to reallocate 35 matters to other practitioners and in the care and protection system, there are multiple parties involved,” she says.

“There is [the Department of Communities and Justice], the child or young person—or multiples—and the parents. In some instances, there simply are not enough lawyers to appear in these matters.”

In addition to the priority of raising awareness of practising in children’s law, improving outcomes for the next generation is at the heart of her chosen charity, the Tracker Network.

Banks describes the Tracker Network, which stemmed from the establishment of Backtrack in Armidale in 2006, as one of seven branches that equip vulnerable young people “having a tough time” with the skills and tools to empower and build their future. She first heard about them whilst on holidays, during a conversation with a parent of a young person who went through the program with BackTrack.  Its mission has stayed with her ever since.

“It really resonated with me, because it overlaps with so many things that I talk to my clients about: many are often being kicked out or bounced around various services. They are just constantly expecting someone to let them down,” Banks says.

“The Tracker Network does not do that. It doesn’t turn people away or let them down. For the young people in these programs, the team will do whatever it takes, for however long it takes.”

“It works with the young people, so they always have something to aim for. They can try things; they know they always have a chance and that there are people who want them to succeed.”

Indeed, there is a quote from Bernie Shakeshaft, the founder of BackTrack, that aligns both with Banks’ belief in the power of the legal profession and of her goals for her term as President.

“if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”