Reflecting on 2020

Today is our first official day back in the office for 2021.  The to-do list is long, the call-return sheet is full, our client list is as full as ever and there seem to be an endless number of emails to respond to.

At this point I wouldn’t fault our team for feeling some post-holiday blues, yet the atmosphere here is anything but morose.

There is a sense of purpose and resolve on this first day back.  It’s as though the events of the last few days, as heartbreaking and painful to our US team as they are, have made us more motivated in our resolve to serve our communities with distinction and honour, to place as much energy and effort into our community and human-rights work as we do into our corporate and criminal matters.

So I take this very brief moment to reflect on our work in 2020 and to thank each and every one of our clients who trusted us, confided in us, and allowed us to fight not only for their individual rights, but also for the rights of each and every person in our community.

January 2020 saw our teams in Canberra and in Melbourne leap to action in response to Australia’s bushfires.  Volunteering hours of pro-bono assistance to those affected by the devastation, our lawyers provided advice and support to farmers, home-owners, travelers stranded in NSW and VIC and individuals all across the country.  As part of Disaster Legal Help Victoria, JLegal manned phones on weekends and weeknights, supporting our neighbours and our communities at their most vulnerable time.

Our pro-bono work continued through May, June and July, as events in the US set off the Black Lives Matter movement both in the US and in Australia and the associated Aboriginal Deaths in Custody protests in major cities across the Lucky Country.  In the month of June alone we attended to over 120 telephone calls from protesters and support personnel, offering direct support and advice to those fighting for social and institutional change.  Manning phones on weeknights and weekends, staying on the phone lines in Canberra and Melbourne for the entirety of each protest and taking calls and emails from protesters across the US kept us busy yet motivated.   With staff attending several protests to act as legal observers as well, our teams were hands-on in their approach to protecting the fundamental rights all in our community hold.

Our pride comes from protecting the fundamental truth of our system of Law which is that it seeks, even if at times fails to deliver, justice and fairness for all.  To identify the failings of any institution or system is not a weakness, but rather an opportunity to move further towards the aspirational goal of a perfectly just and fair world.

July too saw our Melbourne team provide hours and hours of pro-bono advice and assistance to Victorian communities struggling through lockdown, advising on the human rights issue arising and supporting CALD and at-risk communities amid what has now been accepted to be gross violations of their rights.

By the middle of 2020, our social media infographs and videos in relation to both Australian and US rights to protest and the human rights issues around wearing masks and being quarantined attracted sizeable shares and views, allowing us to disseminate real, objectively accurate information which helped our communities understand the issues and make informed, legally supported decisions.

Our commitment to human rights and justice was not limited to reacting to world events.  In 2010, Johannessen Legal made a significant contribution towards a Senate Inquiry into the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Amendment Bill 2020, which sought to lower the age at which our security services could interrogate and traumatize children.

Our teams in every office spent the entire year engaged in fighting for universal human rights, with some notable examples being successfully assisting a client’s passport reinstated after being wrongly identified as an individual suspected of involvement with terrorism, successfully unfreezing assets of a client who was misidentified as a drug-dealer and throwing out criminal charges laid on a client who was misidentified as a known criminal.  In these cases, race, skin-colour and religion all played a part in the misidentifications, a sharp and painful reminder, as though we needed another one in 2020, that the roots of racism and bigotry extend to all corners, and that the price of change is both vigilance and commitment.

Our commitment to human rights resulted in Johannessen Legal being awarded the APAC Legal Awards 2020 “Best International Human Rights Law Firm” in the Australia category, as well as the Global Awards 2020 “Human Rights Law Firm of the Year”.

Our Civil Practice grew in 2020 some 24% from 2019, culminating in our Canberra office being named Top 10 Lawyers “Top 10 Best Civil Lawyers in Canberra”.

Our Criminal Practice nationwide, run through the Canberra office, earned a Top 10 Lawyers “Top 10 Best Criminal Lawyers in Canberra”, while Three Best Rated awarded our firm “Top 3 Criminal Lawyers in Canberra”.

Our Partners were also individually recognized for their work.  Jaleh Johannessen, Principal, has been nominated for a Best Lawyers Award for the practice of Immigration Law in Australia, while Pierre Johannessen has been nominated for both the practice of Criminal Law and Commercial Law in Australia.

From advising commercial clients with assets in the 100s of millions to resolving partner disputes in start-ups, our commercial team has grown our client base by nearly 30%.  As advisors, we take our role of protectors and defenders very seriously.

Our teams continue to grow as a result, committed to the core value we hold that whether our clients require our shield or our axe, we are always beside them in the fight.

I would like to personally thank each and every member of our team, from our full-timers to the interns who have given their time and energy to our boutique practice.  2020 was, by any measure, challenging, yet we enter 2021 proud of our past work and focused on what lies ahead.

Pierre Johannessen
Johannessen Legal