26 April 2022

A message from the PLA’s new President, Judge Elizabeth Cooke

A message from the PLA’s new President, Judge Elizabeth Cooke

I am very honoured to be your president and I hope I can give some useful support to this important and distinguished association.

Two years ago, when the first lock-down started, we were wondering what had hit us and how long it would go on for. It was great to be able to see so many of you in person when the PLA’s annual conference finally resumed in Oxford last month.  Yet the pandemic is still going on, and there is war in Europe and the news is almost too terrifying to look at.

Frodo said to Gandalf “I wish it had not happened in my time”.

“So do I”, said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such days. But that is not for them to decide. All that we have decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

In my presidential address at conference I mentioned three things to which the PLA devotes its time which fill me with enthusiasm.

The first is simply the conduct of litigation. The litigation process is at its best when the participants confine themselves to relevant evidence and relevant argument. And whilst the courts and tribunals can manage litigants in person, it is immeasurably good to have parties represented by lawyers who can identify the issues, keep things relevant, and who manage their clients’ emotions and expectations. You make things so much better. Thank you for all that you do.

The second is law reform, which is close to my heart after seven years as a Law Commissioner.

This is a difficult time for law reform. At the recent panel discussion by the PLA and the PBA I was struck by the caution expressed by the speakers about possible reforms. We are in recovery mode, and what is wanted is not so much a brave new world as a stable one. The PLA and the PBA made submissions to Parliament about the new legislation providing for arbitration in respect of COVID-19 rent arrears. No-one is better placed than you are to comment on the practical implications of new legislation and to shed light on its pitfalls, and this is one of the PLA’s most important roles.

And thirdly, well-being.

To explain why this is a concern of a mine I have to go back 35 years. My experience of training as a solicitor was mostly terrifying, not through any fault of those training me but because I was ill-equipped and unready for the management of other people’s chaos and anger. In those days it was not ok to be not ok. The consequence of stress was that I left practice after a couple of years.

For me things turned out happily. But how many good lawyers have left practice or become unwell because litigation is so immensely stressful? Over the next five years I look forward to watching and encouraging the PLA’s renewed emphasis on well-being and the development of new opportunities for support.

Meanwhile, we are recovering from a strange time and the world is still an uncertain place. What are you doing to protect yourself – however many years qualified you are, however tough you are?

What could you change for the sake of your physical health?
Where are you putting your emotional baggage?
What are you doing that is fun?
Are you making music?
Do you have a goal outside the demands of work and family?
Hopefully I am preaching to the converted. But if your answer to those questions is that you haven’t time, then I beg to differ. It is do-able, and you are worth it.

Thank you for reading, and I look forward to some good years with you.

Judge Elizabeth Cooke
President of the PLA