The new president also expressed her desire to prioritise the issue of human rights in the state
The NSW Law Society has welcomed a new president in Cooma solicitor Joanne van der Plaat, and the new leader has presented the provision of rural and regional court support as one of her key priorities for 2022.
“As a country lawyer, I am keen to promote and raise awareness of rural practice, not as an alternative career, but as a challenging and rewarding career,” she explained. “My experience, starting out as a legal secretary in a small Sydney firm, to working as a paralegal and licensed conveyancer in a large international firm, to the last 13 years as a lawyer in rural NSW, has given me an invaluable insight into the joys, challenges and opportunities we each face in the profession.”
The incoming president pointed to the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the justice system.
“We have learned some valuable lessons during COVID-19 and there are more lessons to be learned and opportunities to be taken,” van der Plaat said. “I am looking forward to engaging with the legal profession, the government and the courts in navigating the ongoing challenges of COVID to ensure we continue to thrive and succeed in our professional and personal lives and provide the best service possible to our clients.”
The new president plans to champion current investment in the justice system, which she said will “provide long term economic benefit for our state and ensure the rights of civil society are met.”
Human rights is another key priority for van der Plaat as she takes the reins at the NSW Law Society this year.
“Through the Law Society’s Thought Leadership program, I want to explore a number of issues relating to human rights in NSW. As our profession grapples with a fast-changing legal landscape, we have an opportunity to participate in a meaningful debate about the role that human rights can play in a modern society, and the impact that the pandemic has had on human rights awareness and expectations,” she explained.
van der Plaat is also advocating for a stronger focus on lawyers’ mental health and wellbeing.
“Our individual and collective wellbeing, in terms of what brings us joy, keeps us connected and allows us to remain engaged and thrive professionally and personally is something we now talk about in the workplace,” she said. “I want to ensure all solicitors continue to have access to practical, applicable information and services that will help them run their practices or move forward in their careers – as has been the Law Society’s mission since its inception 180 years ago.”
van der Plaat succeeds Juliana Warner, who helmed the organisation throughout 2021. Her Opening of Law Term Presidential Address, which was scheduled for this week, has been postponed to 28 March as a result of restrictions imposed in response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 variant Omicron.