THE STANDARDISATION that will come with national legal profession legislation will benefit the entire profession, according to ACT Law Society president Greg Walker. But a significant bonus will be for large law firms, which will finally have access to the option of incorporation.
The tabling in the ACT Legislative Assembly of the Legal Profession Bill 2006 last week, with the aim of harmonising regulation of the ACT legal profession with other Australian jurisdictions, will see lawyers around Australia able to work between the various states and territories.
The changes promote mobility at a time when that is appropriate for many law firms across Australia, Walker said.
“One of the main benefits of having legislation throughout Australia, which is almost uniform with respect to the legal profession, is that it makes it easier for a lawyer to practise in a number of different jurisdictions,” he said.
“The large national firms that operate in all jurisdictions, some of which permit incorporation and some which don’t, are a bit hamstrung as a result of the inconsistencies between the states with respect to the regulation of the profession.”
Many national law firms cannot incorporate because they operate across state lines. “So you have to operate as a partnership even though there might be an advantage for some of the large firms in getting incorporated,” Walker said.
“Certainly there will be some significant benefits for the large firms … It will permit lawyers to be more mobile, in a way that is consistent across the country.”
The rules governing regulation of the legal profession will be much closer to a single model than they have been previously, Walker said. While some argue the legal profession is already the most regulated profession in Australia, the model law will be even more stringent, he added.
“It involves a somewhat more regulated environment,” he said. “Some would say [the legal profession] needs no more regulation, and certainly there are some aspects of the model law that possibly go overboard in that regard. But perhaps it is the price you pay for having the greater degree of mobility that arises out of uniform legislation.”
The Bill has been introduced into the ACT Legislative Assembly in time for it to come into effect on 1 July this year. New provisions of the Bill include the compulsory licensing of barristers and a new disciplinary tribunal completely independent of the profession. The Bill would also bring in a more prescriptive fees disclosure system designed to protect clients.
One of the biggest complaints that lawyers face from clients concerns time costing, Walker said. “The situation where the lawyer takes instructions and works out what is needed, and then goes off and does it without giving the clients advice about the rates to be charged [causes complaints]. There are all sorts of things that can get thrown in [the Bill],” he said.
“When you are expecting a certain amount to pay, and then you get a bill based on time costing, you might think that you haven’t had any say in the negotiation of the actual price. So it is designed to try and remedy some of those problems.”