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Stone, Andrew --- "Being a better advocate" [2015] PrecedentAULA 3; (2015) 126 Precedent 4


By Andrew Stone

Welcome back for a new year that I anticipate will present plenty of advocacy challenges for the ALA and its members.

For most of us, representing the interests of injured people is the daily mainstay of our jobs. It is a job that we can do well or we can do poorly. It isn’t hard to spot poor quality advocacy – the boilerplate response to particulars; the standard witness statement; the ’roll the arm over’ submissions to a tribunal or court – the sausage factory approach to law.

Equally, it isn’t hard to spot good quality advocacy – the extra detail that explains the individual client’s particular circumstances; the witness statement that properly sets out the client’s plight – the touches that serve to humanise the individual and tell their unique story.

There is a real skill and art to distinguishing the story of each client, to adding colour and life to their claim.

One of the professional challenges we face (and a terrific New Year’s resolution) is to remember our clients as individuals and retain the fire and commitment in presenting each of their stories to the best of our ability.

Here you might be scratching your head saying “Isn’t this the same person who in his last President’s Page said that we had to rein in costs or the government would take the work away?” You’re right, I did say that, and I meant it. An expensive custom-built service or mass-produced cookie-cutter claim presentation? Somewhere in-between is the balance that is so hard to find.

In short, take pride in what you do and do it well.

At institutional level, we are privileged to be in a position not only to make a difference to individual clients’ lives, but to make a collective difference. The advocacy work we do as an organisation is about defending our clients’ rights, whether it be their right to fair compensation when injured, to fair treatment by government, to a just outcome within the criminal justice system or to the protection of their fundamental and basic human rights.

Our collective advocacy of these causes serves to inhibit their continuing erosion by governments more interested in economics or headlines or in governing by fear.

Somewhere in between our advocacy for individual clients and their collective well-being is scope for each of us to do a little more. In a busy world of work and families, it can be hard to find the time. Each hour that an ALA director or committee member or spokesperson or author contributes is an hour away from family or an extra hour to be worked on the weekend to catch up. Don’t think your efforts and sacrifice are not appreciated – we all work in a variety of ways for the greater good and our society is the better for it.

My challenge for the new year is threefold:

(i) Am I providing the best possible advocacy I can for my clients (and at a price that does not see the government put us out of business)?

(ii) Am I doing all I can to assist the collective cause of social justice?

(iii) What more can I do to make the world a better place?

The last challenge will be answered in a variety of different individual ways. For my part, I write letters of complaint. It is a form of therapeutic mental exercise. In some years, I am not only the largest single complainant to the Motor Accidents Authority (about poor medical assessments and rogue insurer conduct), I apparently make more complaints than everyone else in NSW combined. It is just my way of trying to ‘keep the bastards honest’.

For others, the challenge will be different. Volunteering at community legal centres, pro bono work, charitable donations, sponsorships. So much is given by the legal profession, which is as it should be.

Nonetheless, as you begin a new year, before the fatigue and weariness set in, ask yourself what little bit more can I do to advocate for that in which I believe?

Edmund Burke said:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Simply supporting the ALA in its advocacy ensures that you are not one of the ‘do nothing crowd. But could you do more?

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