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A sole practitioner based in Mosman, Richard Harvey’s 40 years of experience in small firms has culminated in accredited specialisation as a property lawyer and ascension to the role of President of the Law Society of NSW. 

It isn’t his only role as President in 2020, however. As a law student in the late 1970s, Harvey spent almost as many hours pulling beers at the Annandale Hotel as he did buried in his books. As the last of the families trickled out the door by 10pm, members of the Petersham Rugby Club kicked on. Tight bonds were forged  and Harvey’s love of the game, formed in high school alongside three future Wallabies, was rekindled.

“That’s when I thought, maybe I’ll play again,” he recalls. 

Forty years later and with more than 300 games under his belt, the former front-rower is both club stalwart and club President – though his playing days are behind him.

These days, Harvey is on the frontlines of the protection and progression of the profession. Heavily involved in the move to e-settlements in conveyancing, Harvey sees the viability of legal practice as a critical issue. 

Accordingly, he plans to spend much of his year as President ensuring lawyers – especially smaller players – have access to and fully embrace practices and technology that will allow their businesses to thrive. 

“If you want access to justice, you need to have lawyers at hand, no matter where you live,” Harvey says.

“If lawyers can’t make money, there will not be enough lawyers. And all the lawyers will be in the Sydney CBD or surrounding suburbs.”

This, says Harvey, would be devastating for rural and regional communities that depend on the skills and goodwill that many solicitors provide.

“If regional areas lose lawyers, they lose people in the community who do so much,” he says. “If there is no viable legal profession, there is no pro bono.”

While the viability of practice depends on multiple factors, Harvey sees technology as especially important. He will oversee the continuation of the Law Society’s Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession (FLIP) program, which includes numerous CBD and regional events as well as ongoing research via FLIPStream, a partnership with the University of New South Wales. 

Harvey’s second focus for the year will be protecting and promoting the legal profession as a profession, placing emphasis on what that means for lawyers and the community. Professions are, he says, under attack by “consumerists” and other forces that threaten the very foundation of what it means to be a professional. 

“Being in a profession is different to being in a business, because you have obligations to more than your clients and certainly to more than yourself. You must operate within ethical rules, so everybody knows there is an even playing field.”

This higher level of duty is what defines a profession, says Harvey, and is also what adds immense pressure to the day-to-day reality for lawyers.

“We cannot breach our ethical obligations, because if we do, we lose our right to practice. You had better be good at working at a coffee shop,” he laughs.

Harvey’s charity for the year is Foodbank, Australia’s largest food relief organisation which is instrumental in providing disaster relief. While Harvey’s initiatives to support Foodbank will continue throughout the year, one of his first official duties as President was to call upon the profession to provide free legal assistance to those affected by the bushfires. The response has been remarkable, with hundreds of solicitors and firms offering their resources.

“I think we will get an overwhelming response,” he said at the time he put out the call.

He was right.