Our Director Maged Jebeile featured in October 2013 edition of The Law Society Journal
Our Director, Accredited Property Law Specialist Maged Jebeile is featured in the October 2013 edition of the The Law Society Journal.
The full article is below.
Committees are avenues for change, whatever your sphere
Most people would run a mile from being on a committee. But over 300 lawyers sit on the Law Society’s 26 different committees. Four of them tell Anne Susskind why.
“I’m an employment law tragic,” says Employment Law Committee member Danny King, “and it’s a great place to get together with others like me and have daggy jokes, and talk to people who actually know what you’re talking about”.
King, a sole practitioner, worked for Freehills (now Herbert Smith Freehills) until 2009, then went to Optim Legal which wrapped up in 2010/2011. Now she has a practice “bursting at the seams”, and employs an office manager as well as another solicitor.
The committee, she says, fills a gap left from going from a big firm into a micro one, by providing access to a pool of people in the same area. “They are acquaintances, and colleagues, and growing into friends … We all stay on top of the law because of our committee work and also share experiences and test ideas, just like you would if you were in a firm, surrounded by others in your niche.”
King appreciates the reading packages provided for the monthly meetings containing relevant submissions, upcoming and recently commenced amendments to relevant legislation, significant cases and a media pack showing how the initiatives are being received by the public. They take only a couple of hours to read and think through before meetings because they are so well organised. “It would take me much longer to get that information if I was doing it for myself, and I get the benefit of the current awareness in the area most relevant to my practice.”
The committee has a good spread of ages, practice areas, and seniority within a range of different sized firms and career backgrounds. “We don’t see each other as competitors, more as colleagues, which is nice.
“If you’ve got an interest in this area it’s a really great way to develop your understanding of what’s current, what’s coming, and how to actually get in there and make a contribution to how it is formed.
“If you see a glaring hole in the way a law is operating in practical terms, you can put forward a solution and if it’s a good one of importance to the lawyers of NSW, you can work with your co-committee members to make a submission off-the-cuff, with recommendations on how things can be changed. It gives you an avenue to help make things better, not just passively watch change by others, and to use your skills in a different way to the everyday.”
Employment relationships, says King, are really central in most people’s lives – often as much so as personal ones, because people’s livelihoods ride on work which is closely aligned to a “sense of self”. When they break down and someone loses a job, lives are hugely disrupted and sometimes marriages can break down too.
Employment law generally is a “hotbed”, as it is closely aligned to the different platforms of the major political parties, and changes all the time.
More of her work is for employers than employees. “Working with employers, it can be super-satisfying to make the most of their biggest balance sheet expense – wages – and they can rest a little easier knowing that they don’t have a monkey on their back of a bubble of liability just waiting to explode and absorb all of the profits.
“Clever employers come to me to set up their employment governance systems before anything actually goes wrong. It’s the most fabulous investment, to do something as simple as an employment contract which sets a relationship up properly from the outset, so when things don’t go to plan, it’s easier to resolve.
“Employers need help too, to defend claims and navigate a complex regulatory environment. That’s another great thing about employment law – it has both front-end and back-end legal work, there’s a lot of variety in this field.”
Making an exception
HWL Ebsworth’s Lesley Finn, who is on the Environmental Planning & Development Committee is not, she says, generally a team player or a joiner.
“At school, I played tennis and golf to avoid traditional team sport. Now I practice yoga. I also avoid cards and things like sudoko. To think that hard, I’d have to be paid.”
In a previous life, Finn taught high school English, modern history and Latin but left because she felt that teachers were under-appreciated by society, and there were too many bureaucratic demands for her liking. After she had her babies, she said, she went back to university, became a law librarian, and then studied law and was admitted in 1988.
Despite an obvious impatience with anything slow moving, which committees often are, she makes an exception for the Law Society because, as she says, she genuinely believes its committees make a difference.
Finn says the committee – this is her third year – is her best shot at influencing government into achieving better outcomes for everyone. “The Liberal Party (in NSW) was elected on a promise of reviewing the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act to make it fairer for all, but I think it’s worse in terms of participation of citizens. There’s been a green paper and white paper, there was a bill, and ICAC has put in a submission critical of the breadth of ministerial discretion.
“I helped write the Law Society submission, making a very similar point. The Society is well equipped to be the body to make recommendations.
“Having input on draft legislation makes me feel as though I’m helping … We all live under the rule of law, not rule by law, which means a balance between executive, legislative and judiciary. To make the legal system acceptable, it has to be accessible and seen to be a legitimate exercise of power, otherwise people will regard it with cynicism. If the executive rules by making regulations or parliament passes an Act overturning court decisions, people will no longer accept the system. If people are marching in the streets, something is wrong with the system of government.”
Previously, Finn sat on the Ethics Committee for three years which she enjoyed very much, having become involved in, for example, the subcommittee writing guidelines for dealing with people who lack capacity to give proper instruction. She’s had experience with many self-represented litigants in the Land and Environment Court, so she also wrote some guidelines for solicitors for dealing with them.
Finn was instrumental too in making ethics a compulsory part of CPD. “Some people had lost their way, I felt, their understanding of why lawyers exist and what they’re there for. Some didn’t understand properly what a conflict of interest was. This makes me sound like a goody two shoes, but, like teachers, solicitors have to be looked up to if they’re to have any influence – they’re people who can earn lots of money and have a big influence on other’s lives, and justice is more likely to be served if they’re aware of their responsibilities.”
Finn also does pro bono work for the Homeless Persons Legal Service and PILCH’s MOSAIC (Migrant Outreach Services – Advice, Information and Community Education), to help refugees deal with bodies like Centrelink. HWL Ebsworth, she says, is very supportive of this work.
For Maged Jebeile, the property law specialist accreditation he received in 2011 involved a very rigorous assessment process and revived his interest in becoming engaged with the legal community. That was why he joined a committee in 2012.
A partner in a Surry Hills commercial practice, where he’s been since graduation 11 years ago, he also works in wills and estate planning, finance and general commercial law.
Being on the committee was, he said, really rewarding and helped him stay up-to-date with developments in the sector and potential political reform, via the monthly materials from the Society’s policy officers which had to be reviewed before meetings.
In a small practice, it would otherwise be a challenge, to find the time to collect all that material, Jebeile says. Going into the city and interacting with other specialists is great, too, just as having input into a draft bill or preparing a submission could be very rewarding for a relatively young practitioner.
Most significant for Jebeile was being on a subcommittee for the Swimming Pool Amendment Act. From April 2014, a new prescribed document, the swimming pool compliance certificate, will need to be attached to contracts of sale and tenancy agreements. This will ensure that properties are compliant with fencing safety requirements every time someone wants to sell or lease in a house, apartment block or any other building affected by a pool.
Jebeile said he gained perspective from liaison meetings with government officials, including those from the Department of Local Government, Land and Property Information and Fair Trading, to discuss and address potential problem areas of the new requirements for the profession, such as with “off the plan” contracts. They helped him get into the layers of what was driving changes from a government viewpoint and allowed him to advocate on the profession’s behalf, and suggest appropriate amendments to assist practitioners to comply with new requirements. It was about safeguarding the profession and putting the policy in perspective, Jebeile said.
As a flow on of his committee work, because it gave gave him access to first-hand information on potential policy changes in his field, Jebeile was invited to be a panel editor for the Australian Property Law Bulletin, sourcing contributions and articles about NSW policy changes.
In all, he says, the experience means he has his finger on the pulse. While he doesn’t know that it generates work, his practice has noted his committee membership on its website, and that adds to its credibility.
“The meetings are fantastic, I am working collaboratively and sharing views with some of my mentors in the profession like Tony Cahill and Dennis Bluth – it’s wonderful to hear the different views of experts on the panel. There hasn’t been a committee meeting that I’ve left without learning something new.”
He makes the effort to participate in other areas too, as a registered tutor for Indigenous students at UTS, prompted by his Lebanese cultural background which he says means he relates to the challenges of being part of a minority sector in Australian society.
Judge Matthew Myers, who is Australia’s first Indigenous Federal Court judge – coming from a career in private practice in family law, most recently as a partner in Central Coast Family Law – joined the Indigenous Issues Committee because of his “significant interest” in issues affecting Indigenous people in NSW.
As is well known, he says, the law’s impact on Aboriginal people is disproportionate, particularly in terms of incarceration rates and children taken into care, with the result that they are exposed to people outside their families.
So it matters immensely to him to have input into change, and the committee is his avenue. For example, about the ongoing review of the Child Protection Regulation Act, he says: “In a nutshell, it was our view that we always needed to put the needs of children ahead of the rights of offenders. It is more pertinent to our committee than others because the effects on the Aboriginal community are disproportionate.
“What this involves is ensuring greater disclosure of past offences, including quashed and/or spent convictions.
“The committees consider and deal with the effects of potential legislative changes for each group. It is still being reviewed and we don’t know what the outcome is, but the view of our committee is based on the needs of Aboriginal children.”
The committee was, he said, a good opportunity to get together to speak with people who have similar interests.
“The rewards are far greater than the effort expended. You become part of the solution rather than simply complaining about the problem. They are well run and serious committees, and we are kept tremendously well up to date and abreast of issues.”
As well as a long, long list of other committees, awards and credentials, among them membership of the advisory council for Catholic Care for the Brisbane Waters Diocese and co-chair of the newly established Aboriginal Family Law pathways network, Judge Myers was in 2011 recipient of the NSW Law Society’s President’s medal, and was this year awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to the community in the area of family law and welfare. He says he feels very fortunate in his own life, and what he’s achieved, and wants to “give back”.
As the first Indigenous federal judge, he is one among a number of Aboriginal ‘firsts’ who were his contemporaries at university, including the first Aboriginal surgeon, Kelvin Kong, and also veterinarian, Lia Kellman.
“Now is a time where we are starting to see a lot of firsts taking place. We are seeing a shift – a lot of academic firsts and positions such as mine. There will be a lot to follow too. There is great hope.” MVolume 51 – October 2013 Law Society Journal (NSW, Australia), October 2013