As far as Rebecca Treston QC – the Queensland Bar’s first woman president – is concerned, “Dr Google” is one of the biggest challenges facing advocates.
Along with the high cost of legal services and the “frequency with which solicitors are doing traditional barristers’ work”, Ms Treston gives the internet search engine a dishonourable mention.
“Every client that comes in has done research on you as the barrister and they have a pretty fair idea of the cases that are around that are like their’s,” she says.
“It’s never a good thing at the doctor and it’s certainly not a good thing in a piece of litigation.”
The best strategy, she adds, is to tell the client “in the nicest possible way that it’s not as simple as reading the cases on the internet”.
Ms Treston’s elevation comes only three years after the Queenslanders declined to follow the other main state bars and adopt an equitable briefing policy, which aims to give women an equal opportunity to obtain work. It has a target of 30 per cent of all matters for women by 2020.
Ms Treston says the members now “understand that it’s about equality within the legal profession”.
“I think with a lot of new things, there’s sometimes a bit of reticence about how it might affect practice and how it might work in an equality sense for all members of the profession, as opposed to just women.
“Whatever the explanation was back then, it’s well and truly on the agenda now.”
After five years as a solicitor, the president-elect – Ms Treston takes over from Sandy Thompson QC on November 21 – went to the bar in 1996. She became a silk in 2013 and has a broad commercial practice that veers to wills and estates law.
Her father was a solicitor, but the rest of her five siblings have taken other professional roads.
Away from work, she is thankful for “an enormously supportive husband” and says their four kids aged 11-15 keep her busy.
“I still turn the sausages at the barbecue for the school fundraiser.”
She said she had been “inspired by the idea that the bar can make a difference. It’s critical to developing a positive and respectful relationship with the judiciary and the government.
“If we don’t, we won’t have a voice at the table when it comes to law reform and access to justice.”
Ms Treston said she was concerned by criticism of the courts “particularly this year”.
“The Bar Association understands completely that a long delay in giving judgment is a problem. Of course it is, but those league tables are a bit unfair to the judges.
“We are also quite preoccupied with the restructure to family court and the idea that we might leap in before the Australian Law Reform Commission has had a chance to finish its work on family law.
“Proceeding with haste is not a good idea. We really need to get that right because it is a fundamental part of the legal system that affects so many people. Family law is so far reaching.”
Given the Victorian Bar had its first woman leader in 1993 (future High Court judge Susan Crennan) and NSW followed suit in 1999 (Supreme Court judge Ruth McColl), Queensland is quite late to the party.
So is the Queensland Bar maybe a little more conservative than its counterparts?
“I don’t think you could any longer say that,” says Ms Treston.
She then offers a cheeky pause.