“There are certainly limitations on the kind of business we can do in potentially important overseas markets,” Iain Sandford, head of Minter Ellison’s international trade group told The New Lawyer.
The firm’s chief executive partner, John Weber, also said that in order to deliver efficient services in the new globalised environment, there needs to be increased competition among legal services providers.
Restrictive international trade barriers and unnecessary and overlapping domestic regulations are increasing the cost of doing business, and are stifling Australian law firms’ ability to compete effectively on a global stage, Weber said.
Nine jurisdictions in Australia each regulate aspects of practice by lawyers, Weber said. This, aswell as the eight superior courts and a Federal Court system, means lawyers operating Australia wide are subject to numerous regulators and often-inconsistent requirements for legal services.
While he applauded the Federal Government for its efforts toharmonise and streamline the “over-complicated system”, he said more needs to be done at the state and territory level to ensure efficiency in the delivery of legal services.
While there has been some improvement, restrictions at an international level are also stifling Australian legal services overseas, Sandford said. A firm like Minter Ellison can establish a representative office in China, he said, “but there are limitations on how much you can do there”. He said limitations on who you canhire restricts how much Australian firms can get from such an office.
But Sandford acknowledges there now exists a more formal process than there used to be for addressing barriers to trade and legal services. He said free trade agreements signed in the past 10 years have focused more on legal services than they did in the past.
“You’ve really got anew international dialogue going on that addresses legal services in a way that hasn’t been done in the past,” he said.
Firms and lawyers are now keen to ensure Australian legal services are more easily transported overseas, Sandford said. He said an increase in the number of multi-national clients and the increased prevalence of multi-jurisdictional work would see this urgency grow.