The Legal Services Council commenced in 2014. The purpose of the council is to oversee the operation of the Legal Profession Uniform Law, a regulatory framework for Australian legal practitioners.
In an important step towards uniform regulation of the profession across Australia, the law has applied to legal practitioners in New South Wales and Victoria from 1 July 2015 and covers around 70 per cent of the profession.
As commissioner, one of the most remarkable things I have observed is the spirit of co-operation exhibited by the other regulatory bodies - without any intervention by the council - as we work off the same statute. The strong relationship between Uniform Law participating jurisdictions is extremely encouraging.
Since its inception, the council can be proud of a short but commendable list of achievements:
• Prepared and made Uniform General Rules and facilitated the making of rules contributed by the Law Council of Australia, Australian Bar Association and the council’s own Admissions Committee
• Oversaw a relatively small number of rules amendments
• Assisted the Admissions Committee to fulfil its role
• Established a short form costs disclosure threshold to facilitate legal practice and assist consumers to be better informed about legal costs
• Undertaken first-time research on what consumers expect to be told about their legal costs
• Settled minimum standards for Personal Indemnity Insurance
• Established a course of training for external examiners of trust accounts
• Established strong consultative relationships with stakeholders and consumers
• Developed data sharing arrangements on complaints and discipline matters between regulatory bodies
The Uniform Law, which was first mooted decades ago, is a powerful idea and is now a reality in Australia’s two most populous states. Uniform regulation has been implemented for health professions, and I believe Australia’s legal profession would only be strengthened by getting on board.
Over time the case for the Uniform Law to be adopted everywhere has become more apparent. The Uniform Law has inbuilt benefits for both lawyers and consumers, with consumers benefitting from clearer costs disclosure obligations than existed in the two states previously, and the legal profession is thus able to enjoy greater levels of client trust and allegiance.
The Uniform Law is technology-neutral and provides a skeletal framework for an Australia-wide legal profession regulatory framework under which local regulatory systems can continue basically unchanged.
Another benefit of the Uniform Law is the growing understanding that co-operation and innovation based on the same law leads to best practice and continuous improvement. The legal profession, like all other fields, is being disrupted by technology and these rapid changes call for agile and nimble regulatory structures.
When we think of law or rule changes necessary to adapt in this environment, the Uniform Law offers the distinct benefit of a faster and simpler rule-making process, for any rules having Australia-wide effect.
The Uniform Law regulatory system is able to react more quickly to challenges with just six steps to rule-making, compared to the current seven jurisdictions process.
This would involve more than 40 steps in all jurisdictions to make a rule change everywhere and would probably take a year or more to complete. Adoption of the Uniform Law by all jurisdictions is the only way forward if agility is key.
The increasing challenges of the digital economy with artificial intelligence and their impacts on the legal profession are just beginning. Future challenges will need a co-ordinated, united approach for the benefit of the profession and consumers.
In overseeing the establishment of the Uniform Law scheme, I have appreciated working with some powerful intellects and wonderful people, all of whom have kept my job enjoyable, interesting and fulfilling. We have laid the foundation stones of an important area of microeconomic reform, run by states, which will enable us to better meet the challenges of the future.
I believe – adequate as our legal profession governance framework has been – it needs improving to allow it to better serve the legal profession now and into the future.
I believe good things take time to achieve. I am confident that in due course the Uniform Law will be seen to have provided a solid foundation for the regulation of the Australian legal profession. In doing so, it is of benefit to both consumers and the legal profession, with the latter better equipped to deal with a wide range of changes that the future will bring.
Dale Boucher is the outgoing CEO of Legal Services Council and commissioner for Uniform Legal Services Regulation. Mr Boucher’s three-year term as the inaugural CEO of Legal Services Council and commissioner for Uniform Legal Services Regulation ends on 29 September 2017.