In her 20 years working in law, the Law Society’s 2019 President Elizabeth Espinosa says there have been huge changes in how law is delivered, not so much in what the law actually is.
As a result, one of her priorities for the year is to increase what she calls “law-tech literacy” among the legal profession.
Espinosa, who has taken a year of absence from her role as General Counsel and Manager of Governance, Legal Services & Procurement at Liverpool City Council, wants to empower solicitors to better plan and implement changes in technology to how they practise. She also hopes the Law Society will launch an education program about new technologies, including the risk of cyber fraud.
“Artificial intelligence, business structures, how information is obtained are radically different now,” she says. “I remember the blue MS Dos screen, getting email for the first time, using coins to make a public telephone call [from the local court] when I needed advice from someone senior in the office.
In the legal profession, there are two schools of thought on technology change; one is to embrace it, make mistakes and be part of it. The other way of thinking is, ‘I have been doing it this way for 20 years and I don’t want or need to change’.
“PEXA (electronic conveyancing) and the legislative changes in how we do transactions have forced many lawyers down the path of change whether they want to or not. I believe our members have no choice but to embrace change.”
Espinosa is the youngest of four children and the only lawyer in a family that had moved to Wollongong in 1965 from Spain. She was born here and named after Queen Elizabeth II as her parents, Jose and Isabel, started to embrace life in their new country.
She says she has always been interested in social justice issues, guided by parents who were not formally educated but taught their children that “you can’t improve the world without being involved”.
Espinosa, 46, was admitted as a solicitor in 1997, on the same day as her husband Stephen, who she met at the University of Wollongong. The couple have two high school children and have moved to Sydney for her year of Presidency.
Espinosa says a key priority for her is increasing the number of solicitor appointments to the bench, a passion of the Immediate-Past President of the Law Society, Doug Humphreys.
“Those solicitors who are already doing advocacy in court need to be exposed, lauded, applauded and encouraged to share their skills,” Espinosa says. “It’s about solicitors appearing in court and not always briefing a barrister. Solicitors have equal standing in court and that is an important message.”
Espinosa says informing the public on human rights issues, including the rule of law and legal rights, is an important part of her new role. She has chosen national domestic violence charity Our Watch as her passion project and beneficiary of Law Society fundraising for 2019.
“It stands for ‘Our Women and Their Children’ and the mantra is ‘doing nothing does harm’,” she says.
“It’s everybody’s responsibility and Our Watch has a significant social media presence with practical tips to help everybody. For example, if you hear a joke that is uncomfortable, where the humour relies on someone being hurt or belittled, don’t laugh.”
As for her motivation, she says, “I have never understood why we hurt each other and I have never understood that society will stand by and tolerate what happens behind closed doors. I find it unacceptable.
“Our Watch educates people about why people don’t simply leave violent relationships. Let’s not leave it to the victims to run away and become homeless and poor. It’s all our responsibility.”