The Queensland Law Society has suggested its State Government may have rejected National Legal Profession Reform (NLPR) and, in turn, threatened its viability, because of incorrect information.
Queensland’s Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie announced this morning (3 October) that a reason for his decision to withdraw support for NLPR is based on the fact that 85 per cent of Queensland solicitors are sole practitioners who, he said, “have nothing to gain from these reforms other than increased costs”.
But the Queensland Law Society has revealed that Bleijie could have his facts wrong. Deputy president Annette Bradfield claimed membership figures indicate that the number of sole practitioners in Queensland is closer to 11 per cent.
“We’re concerned one of the reasons for the decision may have been based on incorrect numbers,” she said.
ALA president Tony Kerin (pictured) told Lawyers Weekly that while the majority of Queensland's lawyers may not be sole practitioners they are still “small outfits” that have different concerns to national firms based in NSW and Victoria, which have already backed the NLPR scheme.
“It’s a complex matter keeping every state happy ... there are different issues in each state and in smaller states the cost issue is paramount,” he said.
Kerin highlighted higher insurance levies as an example of a small-firm concern that needs to be considered by the drafters of the reform package. “Those involved say they’ve been considering these types of issues, but clearly not enough ... to get all the states to buy in,” he said.
“It’s a grand ideal but there are some practical difficulties that need to be overcome.”
Bleijie defended his decision further by claiming that the costs of establishing a national board to regulate the legal profession are “vague” and will most likely be passed on to the participating states. He added that a national board would also create an “unnecessary level of red tape”.
The decision is a major setback for the Law Council of Australia (LCA) and the country’s big law firms, which have been lobbying for a regulatory overhaul. Law firms in particular have voiced the desire to remove inconsistent state rules that add to their compliance burden.
Catherine Gale, president of the LCA, said she is disappointed by the Attorney-General’s announcement. She claimed regulatory differences between states and territories impact all lawyers, not just the national law firms.
“[Inconsistencies] impact medium and specialist law firms that aspire to grow and establish a national presence, as well as the many smaller law firms that operate in border regions, especially in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales,” she explained.
In response to Bleijie’s claim that his decision was also based on the Newman Government’s belief in competitive federalism, Gale argued that the national scheme promotes competitive federalism by creating a level regulatory playing field.
Despite the setback, Kerin remains hopeful that Bleijie’s decision doesn’t signal the end of regulatory reform. He believes, at the very least, efficiencies can still be achieved on a state-by-state basis.
“The profession has come a long way in recognising the mutual admission of practitioners, but it can go further,” he added.
Queensland is the fourth state to reject the scheme, joining Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania.