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Opening Address at the Fiji Law Society/International Bar Association Convention 2019 - Globalising Your Practise: Opportunities and Challenges

September 6, 2019       Sheraton Fiji Resort, Nadi

The Chair of the Bar Issues Commission, International Bar Association Mr. Péter Köves (Hungary); 
The Vice – Chair of the Bar Issues Commission, International Bar Association, Mr. Kimitoshi Yabuki (Japan);
Representatives and Members of the International Bar Association;
The President of the Fiji Law Society, Ms. Laurel Vaurasi;
The Vice President of the Shenzhen Lawyers Association, Mr. Han Jun;
Representatives and Members of the Shenzhen Lawyers Association;
President of the Law Council of Australia, Mr. Arthur Moses SC;
The Chair of the South Pacific Law Association Mr. Gordon Hughes;
Representatives and Members of the South Pacific Law Association;
The President, Law Society of New Zealand, Ms. Tiana Epati;
Representatives and Members of the Law Society of New Zealand;
The Representative and Member of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, Mr. Steven Thiru;
The President, Cook Islands Law Society, Mr. Wilkie Ramussem;
The Representative and Member of the PNG Law Society Council, Ms. Gertrude Elai;
The Representative and Member of the Tuvalu Law Association Mr. Isala T Isala;
The President, Law Society of Vanuatu, Mr. Arthur Faerua;
Members of the Judiciary of Fiji;
Invited Guest speakers from abroad and Fiji;
Distinguished guests;
Lawyers and Members of the Legal Fraternity in Fiji;
Ladies and Gentlemen;

Ni sa bula vinaka, and a very good morning to you all.

It gives me great pleasure to address you at this Convention with the theme “Globalising Your Practice: Opportunities & Challenges co-hosted by the Fiji Law Society and the International Bar Association. 

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honour to be invited by the co-hosts to deliver the keynote address at this Convention, given the esteemed representatives present from, the International Bar Association, the Presidents and Chairpersons of the various Law Societies and Executive Councils present from the Asia Pacific region and other distinguished representatives from various parts of the world and within Fiji.
On behalf of the Fijian Government and all my fellow Fijians, I extend a warm welcome to Fiji to our overseas guests and convey my heartfelt appreciation for the opportunity to speak at this distinguished forum. 

A few months ago, I also had the honour of delivering the keynote address at the LAWASIA Employment Law Forum co-hosted by the Fiji Law Society.
I congratulate the President of the Fiji Law Society for continuing to build on the platform of expanding the Society’s relationships and influence beyond our borders.

In doing so, you are not only enhancing the position of the Society and its members, but you are also aiding in Fiji’s progress towards continued development in the practice of law and management of law firms as a business commensurate with international trends and developments.  The latter is by no means an easy feat.
In fact, some would describe it as idealistic and perhaps commendable but, unrealistic in Fiji’s context, as a relatively young democratic nation.

I would venture to say, that many of you here today, particularly those with small, even a single lawyer law firms, may be questioning the relevance of the Convention theme to you.

After all, Fiji remains a developing country, despite the progress and advancements achieved since independence and the myriad of socio economical, cultural and political challenges we have overcome. 

But I would say that if Fiji is to achieve the status of being the hub of the Pacific, then we must not only consider the lessons our own personal history has taught us.

But we must also have regard to how the developed world has progressed in business, development, the use of technology, negotiating through cross cultural and generational relationships but also in the way the practice of law not just a profession but also as a business, ought to evolve in our nation. 

I must make one qualification in that, by saying “to have regard” I do not mean that we are simply to adopt what we observe from far more developed countries where the practice of law has evolved over centuries.

To begin with, you must first become aware and be informed of how the practice of law has progressed in other countries and then consider from the reality of your individual positions as legal practitioners and as a profession, what you think your progress and journey in the practice of law ought to be. 

Whichever side of the argument you fall on, whether Fiji in the practice of law should have regard to global and international trends, and if so, to what extent, I encourage you all, whatever generation you are from, the “X” generation, the “Baby Boomers” the ‘Traditionalist” or the “Millennials”, to at the very least, begin a conversation on this issue.

Remember in so doing, you are not necessarily undermining the lessons of the past, but hopefully looking toward building on those lessons.

I note with interest the first session discusses “Major trends in International Law Practice – how do we compare in Pacific Jurisdictions?”.

The matters expected to be covered will include electronic discovery and the impact of technology I gather in, among other things, the preparation and standardization of legal documentation.

I imagine that the very idea of purchasing software to protect against malware and other cybersecurity threats, relevant to the issue of security of client information, may seem an anathema to some of you. And yet I am confident that for many others, the issue of acquiring billing and case management software is a thing of the past and the next level for you, is the acquisition of software that assists in the preparation of legal documents.

The more substantive challenges may be the decision to delve into an area of law that is growing as a result of the way commerce and trade within the region and in the international arena is developing. 

Do you as a medium sized law firm make a strategic move to delve into a growing area of law  influenced heavily by commerce and trade that very few practitioners have considered, or do you continue within the scope and area of law that you are comfortable and familiar with?.

 It is never an easy decision to venture into a new area of practice, or life, for that matter, and whichever it is, this should be considered carefully.  

For those of you who know of the remarkable life’s achievements of Helen Keller, I would like to quote a phrase from her. She said: “I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”

Briefly, Helen Keller was both deaf and blind from a very young age and for her, until she was able to communicate, the world in which we as able-bodied members take for granted, was completely foreign. 

Despite the formidable challenges of her disabilities, she became the first deaf and blind person to acquire a Bachelor of Arts Degree and became a leading activist for the disabled, though she is known for many other remarkable accomplishments.

Yes, the idea of developing and extending your practice to a particular yet unchartered area like “Foreign Direct Investment – the Role of Lawyers” which you will learn about on Friday, may be a daunting task, but I pivot for a moment to ask you this. Review your current positions as legal practitioners, as officers of the courts, as key stakeholders in the process of the administration of justice. 

How close are you in reaching the standards of excellence in the application of the noble tenets of your profession, beginning with your ethical duties to the court and your clients? How much value do you actually place in the fiduciary duty you must fulfil to the court and to your clients? Are you delivering your services in accordance with the standards of competence and diligence required of you?

From the perspective of the practice of law, these are the “small tasks” you must accomplish and treat as ‘great and noble” first and foremost.

I would urge you to carefully gleam what you can from the esteemed speakers who will be presenting to you over the course of the next two days, particularly on these foundational requirements before venturing to the more formidable question of whether you should venture out into new areas of practice that cross international borders.

I am pleased to note that your final session discusses this issue. Although it may be the last session, I would encourage you all to attend that session entitled ‘The Image of Ethics in the Legal Profession – with Globalisation and changes to business do lawyers remember the core Values.
Clearly the organizers of this Convention are mindful of the values that lie at the heart of the noble profession that you are all part of and want to ensure that they remain equally important to you all.

In addition, I hope all of you including the smaller law firms will take keen interest in the session on “Working with international law firms and international business clients – top tips for business development”.

I expect you will receive guidance on the question of whether and when to expand your business into completely new areas of law.
Arguably the most dominant issue around the world and at the highest levels of policy and decision making is the issue of climate change and the consequential effects it has on migrant and refugee populations.

Whilst Fiji has begun to see issues arising in relation to migrant workers, the day may yet come and soon, when the issue of migrant and refugee populations displaced as a result of climate change may arrive on our shores.

Will you as legal practitioners be equipped to address the issue from a policy and legislative level for the benefit of our nation and its citizen as well as on behalf of a displaced migrant seeking refuge and some form of humanitarian and legal remedy in Fiji? 

Ladies and gentlemen, it is exposure to these types of forums that generate and progress conversations on how global trends will keep you aware of the issues and developments around the world as they affect the practice of law.

We have a responsibility if not to our ourselves but for the benefit of the generations that will follow us, to consider how the world beyond our shores will affect them and consider what preparatory work may be needed now.

Fiji has experienced unprecedented economic growth for the past nine (9) years.
Apart from prudent financial management, this growth is also due to the conducive environment created by the Fijian Government for business, investments and employment of our people.

Men and women need to work knowing that they will be eligible for equal pay for equal work, knowing that they can work in an environment free from violence and harassment, knowing that there are provisions that allow them to take care of their families and emergencies when the need arises and knowing that they are free from discrimination on the grounds of their sex, religion, sexual orientation or other characteristics that many still face in other parts of the world.
I am proud to say that, whilst we are not perfect, we are well on our way to creating an employment environment that is conducive to our continued economic growth.

These progressive developments would not have been achieved if we remained unaware of what was happening in other countries and considered the relevance of those developments to Fiji’s context.

At this juncture, I commend the hard work and effort by the FIJI LAW SOCIETY and the commitment by the International Bar Association for hosting this Convention.
I again note the caliber of SPEAKERS both local and from other jurisdictions in the programme and have no doubt that they will enlighten us based on their respective wealth of experience and knowledge on the topics they will be delivering. 

Thank you for giving up your valuable and no doubt very expensive time to be here in Fiji.

For those visiting from abroad, I hope that you take some time out to experience the warm Fijian hospitality that puts Fiji on the world map. Get to know our people and if possible, try something new in Fiji.
I am very pleased to see a sizable number of participants present here today and I would like to commend them all for attending and making this Forum an interactive one. 

On behalf of the Fiji Government and all Fijians, I thank you and wish you all the best.

Vinaka vakalevu, Dhanyavaad, Thank you and may Almighty God bless you all and our beloved Fiji.