THE LAW Council of Australia (LCA) hopes to finalise changes to its constitution — including the offer of a seat at the table to a nine-firm group of major legal players — at the Australian Legal Convention next week.
Following a significant meeting of LCA directors in February, which saw the inclusion of the Large Law Firm Group (LLFG) all but agreed upon, the directors will meet during the convention to formally address the constitutional changes required to bring the new LCA structure into existence.
LCA president Tim Bugg hopes that by the time he gives his address on 25 March, the issue will have been resolved. It will also mark a significant achievement ahead of the end of his presidential term in September this year.
“That will be an important meeting and it’s one that we’ve been working towards for a number of months,” he told Lawyers Weekly.
“There are never any guarantees about it, but at the directors meeting we had in February in Canberra, the proposition … received overwhelming support. It was then just a case of the constitutional change being drafted for consideration by the directors and members of the Law Council.”
The wording of the proposed changes to the constitution will cover the “general proposition that the [LLFG] be entitled to become a member. The wording needed for constitutional change is yet to be resolved,” he said. “But a lot of work was done on that, earlier last month, and those changes have been circulated to the constituent bodies for their consideration.”
One of the overwhelming advantages of the LLFG seat is the long-term financial security that will come from shoring up the membership fees of more than 6,000 lawyers to the law societies and bars, money which continues on as capitation fees to the LCA, Bugg said.
“It will see the large law firms not only continue to join up their lawyers to the various law societies, but to increase the membership of lawyers from these firms,” he said. “That is immediately very positive for the law societies, [and] it has a flow-on effect to the Law Council.
“What has come out of the debate is the overwhelming support that there is around the country, not only from the large law firms but also the constituent bodies, for the long-term wellbeing of the Law Council, and the need for it to be properly resourced to be the peak body for the country’s lawyers.”
Bugg’s speech at the convention will also provide an opportunity to discuss the progress of the national profession project, following the agreement of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General on the 2006 Model Bill.
“We are now in a phase of doing what we can to ensure that the legislation is implemented around the country. Some states and territories have already done that, some haven’t,” he said. “We are hoping to see that all come to fruition during this calendar year.”
Bugg also hopes to draw attention to the many positive advancements the profession has made since the last LCA president spoke at a similar function. His address will follow that of High Court Chief Justice Murray Gleeson and Attorney-General Philip Ruddock.
Despite Ruddock’s comments at last year’s Australian Corporate Lawyer’s Association national conference, where he criticised the LCA’s willingness to publicly argue the merits of political issues such as David Hicks’ ongoing incarceration, Bugg played down the suggestion that he may need to keep a second speech in his back pocket.
“I don’t believe I’ll need a second speech. The beauty of that particular session, when the Chief Justice, the Attorney-General and the president of the Law Council each gets an opportunity to speak, is that each can bring forward issues of concern to their respective areas of interest.”
When asked whether Ruddock was the only well-known lawyer in Australia in favour of the military commission system designed to try Hicks, Bugg replied: “No, because the Prime Minister is also a lawyer. But it is, I think, most accurately put that the Attorney’s view on this does not reflect the overwhelming view of the lawyers of this country”.