IN URGING for a swift resolution of state-based differences over the national profession project, the Federal Attorney-General emphasised the attraction national harmony would represent to practicing foreign lawyers.
Far from a domestic issue, Philip Ruddock said at The Australian Financial Review Law Reform Summit in Sydney last week that having a true national profession would make the task of opening pathways for Australian lawyers overseas much simpler.
“When I talk to my overseas counterparts and ask them to remove barriers to their jurisdictions I find it easier to argue my case when I can point to the changes we are making in our own jurisdictions, rather than just asking them to make changes in theirs to suit us,” Ruddock said.
The Attorney-General said that until harmony is reached, foreign lawyers will be forced to continue wading through an excess of state and territory jurisdictional red tape to be able to practice in Australia.
“If they want to move between jurisdictions they have to jump through the hoops those jurisdictions choose to hold in front of them,” he said. “This arrangement hardly puts Australia in a strong position when I go abroad seeking access to overseas legal markets for Australian lawyers.”
Once a consistent regulatory system is introduced for foreign lawyers through the Model Bill, “Australia [will be] in a stronger position when negotiating improved access for Australian lawyers to overseas jurisdictions in multilateral, bilateral and regional trade negotiations, [and] this includes free trade agreements”.
Also speaking at the summit, director-general of the NSW Attorney-General’s Department, Laurie Glanfield, agreed that the different admission requirements that exist throughout Australia have long been a deterrent for foreign lawyers wishing to practice here. But this should not be allowed to persist for much longer, he said.
“As the Australian Government and its International Legal Services Advisory Council seek to expand the business opportunities for Australian lawyers to practise overseas, the existence of a single national profession with uniform admission standards, and a settled and consistent foreign lawyer admission regime will be essential,” Glanfield said.
The director-general also said that “recent efforts in a number of American states to open legal practice to Australian lawyers will be assisted by our ability to provide reciprocal arrangements for American lawyers”.
Along with South Australia and Western Australia, Queensland is yet to conclude its national profession legislation. Under the Legal Profession Act 2004 in Queensland, provisions were made for the registration of foreign lawyers, though they were not commenced, Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Kerry Shine, said.
One of the improvements to come in a subsequent Queensland statute, the Legal Profession Bill 2007, was a provision allowing for the registration of foreign lawyers, including recognition of those registered interstate in Australia, Shine said.