Tēnā koutou kātoa
As most of you are now aware, our long-serving CEO Sue Keppel is retiring at Christmas. Sue has headed up ADLS (now known as The Law Association) for 12 years and she is going to be a hard act to follow.
Sue’s contribution to The Law Association has been outstanding, on both the representative and commercial sides of the organisation. During her tenure, membership numbers have grown from 2702 to 5235 and revenue has almost doubled. She has steered the business through huge change, the sort of change we could not have imagined when she joined the organisation in 2011, and she has done this with energy, professionalism, wisdom and foresight. The legal profession in Auckland and throughout New Zealand owes a huge debt of gratitude to Sue Keppel.
The rebranding of the former Auckland District Law Society to ADLS and, most recently, to The Law Association have been watershed moments for our organisation and Sue navigated us superbly through that process, with all its moving parts, and achieved an outcome that has put The Law Association in a strong position to grow our market share and become indispensable to our members.
Back in November 2011, when Sue arrived at what was then called the Auckland District Law Society Inc, the organisation, post-incorporation and the split from the New Zealand Law Society, didn’t know what it was or what it wanted to be. Our detractors speculated that the Auckland District Law Society would be gone within six months. But over time, Sue has created a logical, coherent organisation, always being very clear about its purpose and what was needed to build goodwill. With first-class networking skills, she developed excellent relationships across the profession and beyond – in particular, with the High Court bench and the Chief Justice.
In short, Sue is a master networker who has created these connections which help us all. And I know how clever she is in her judgment calls and in her promotion of our association. I’ve been on council for seven years now and I’ve seen first-hand how hard Sue works. Sue has kept our organisation at the forefront of processes such as digitisation, the development of our CPD offering and our 18 Law Association committees.
She successfully negotiated the sale, at the top of the property market, of our Chancery Chambers building in downtown Auckland. Although the building has been a well-loved home for us, ultimately we’re not a heritage building-owning society. Our focus, as Sue regularly reminds us, needs to be on our members, serving them and serving the public. Selling the building was a complex process and a large number of members had very strong views. But Sue led that process so effectively and without her guidance and wise counsel, I have no doubt that we would not be where we’re at today – in a very strong position to serve our members and provide new opportunities.
It’s hard to pin down Sue’s legacy to a single issue. She’s our biggest supporter, she’s our biggest advocate and she’s going to leave a huge hole in our organisation and in our profession. She’s had to make some huge calls during her time at The Law Association and on each occasion she has shown excellent judgment. She’s charming and smart, a good friend and a shrewd judge of people. To honour her massive contribution, the council has made her a life member of The Law Association.
On a much sadder note, the profession was rocked earlier this year by loss of one of our new council members, Telise Kelly, who died in April after being struck by a vehicle outside the North Shore District Court. In the time since, and in conjunction with Telise’s family and her old firm Martelli McKegg, Sue has been instrumental in establishing a six-figure trust fund dedicated to Telise’s memory. It will enable The Law Association to support a student who otherwise might not have been able to have a career in the law.
I have a great passion for The Law Association and am excited by the fact that we are the largest independent, voluntary membership organisation that represents lawyers. That’s our big point of difference from the New Zealand Law Society: we’ve got 5235 members who voluntarily seek us out and pay us their membership fees every year so I feel a real responsibility to ensure we look after those members and provide them with really good value.
My vision for 2024 is to build on our point of difference and our dedication to great service by developing some new initiatives for our members – a new commercial offering that will drive revenue because we are a commercial organisation as well as a representative body. We want it to excite our members and improve their working lives. We are a truly independent organisation and I want us to stand on our own two feet.
Some changes are already in train. We’ve got a new deed of lease coming out in the new year which, for people like me who work in the commercial property space, is quite exciting but I want to come up with another strong limb for our members and I’ll spend the summer thinking about what that might be. Ideally, it will be something that creates a network for members and some form of support for their practices. It might include developing off-theshelf policies and templates so in-house counsel and sole practitioners can do their six-minute units, serve their clients and make a living without having to worry about the backroom stuff.
I’m not saying I’ll invent the new Uber or Airbnb, but maybe we’ll have an app that makes it easier for lawyers to do their jobs. And every time there’s a change in the law – for example, the new government has said it will bring back 90-day trial periods for employers with 20+ employees – we would update the app relating to that policy or employment agreement template and members will get that as part of their subscription.
Looking back at the past year, I think one of the major issues for practitioners is the significant delays in litigation and serious backlogs in the courts for both civil and criminal matters. Some of our members are very stretched. One was telling me she has done six homicide trials in the past year which is a massive workload. Another issue is the poor physical condition of our courthouses.
Those are some of the real challenges for litigators and then on my side, commercial and property, I think we will still face some economic headwinds. The property market is definitely on the move but (as the Reserve Bank has just flagged) the OCR may not come down as quickly as we expected. I’m not predicting a recession and I think the economy will improve but probably not as quickly as we had hoped or expected, so that’s a challenge.
The other thing I’d like to highlight is the rebranding from ADLS to The Law Association. It had to happen. I’m the 87th president and the first to be based outside the greater Auckland/Northland region.
I’ve had such positive feedback about the rebranding since we made the change at the beginning of October. People have embraced the new brand. I’ve had people come up to me and say, “we voted against the name-change” or “we didn’t care and we didn’t bother to vote” but in the next breath they tell me it’s great and that we’ve done a fantastic job.
So, as we head into the new year, we face the critical job of appointing a new CEO – probably the most important decision I will make during my presidency – we’re looking at a new revenue stream which will bring new opportunities for our members and, best of all, everyone is looking forward to a holiday. We’re through the election, we lost the Rugby World Cup, everyone’s been busy, and we all need a break.
Have a wonderful Christmas and a happy and relaxing new year. ■