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National legal profession just ‘makes sense’: LCA

user iconFelicity Nelson 07 April 2015 SME Law

The preservation of separate, overly complex regulatory systems for lawyers in each of Australia’s eight jurisdictions is holding the profession back, the Law Council of Australia has said.

 “I passionately believe that we need a single market," president-elect of the LCA Stuart Clark told Lawyers Weekly.

"We need a national legal profession. There are 23 million people in Australia, 60,000 lawyers … 55 different bodies administering the legal profession [and] something like 4,700 pages of legislation – it is madness.”

“We’re all Australians, we are all lawyers, the common law of Australia is the common law everywhere… It makes sense [to have a national profession],” said president of the LCA Duncan McConnel (pictured).

The idea of a single legal profession has been in the pipeline for a number of years.

However, this year marks a huge step forward with NSW and Victoria set to sign on to the Legal Profession Uniform Laws in July. This will create a common legal market for almost three-quarters of Australian lawyers for the first time.

The Uniform Law aims to standardise practising certificates, billing arrangements, complaint handling processes, professional discipline issues and continuing professional development.

Other states and territories will have the option of joining once the regulatory framework is up and running in these two states.

“This way of going about it is probably a good one because you get consistency between the two largest jurisdictions, which would really light the way for the other jurisdictions to follow,” said Mr McConnel.

Mr Clark said a national profession was an important microeconomic reform for clients who are currently burdened with the cost of dealing with multiple systems of administration across the country.

He said the reforms would also break down barriers for lawyers wishing to practice across different states and territories by creating a single CLE system.

Mr McConnel said his primary concern at the moment was reaching an agreement on the national Legal Profession Conduct Rules.

These have already been implemented in Queensland and South Australia and are close to being implemented in the ACT, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

The rules should feed into the Uniform Law in NSW and Victoria once negotiations conclude.

“What we are trying to do is hold that national consensus on conduct rules while the Uniform Law is implemented.

“I think if we achieve that then we will be able to hold the interest of the jurisdictions that aren’t yet in,” he added.

As a NT-based barrister, Mr McConnel takes an interest in defending the welfare of the legal community in NT.

“One of the things I’m really committed to is … the NT participating in a national profession in a way where we get a voice,” he said.

“When you look at a jurisdiction like the Northern Territory, it’s small. It’s only got a few hundred lawyers.”

This means that law society is able to offer various training programs to reduce premiums and deliver insurance at an affordable rate to members.

“If we were to simply fold into the Uniform Law jurisdictions of NSW and Victoria that would result in a significant jump in our insurance premium.

“We’ve got to look at ways that we can manage a transition that doesn’t result in that happening,” he added.

An international force

As the primary representative body for Australian lawyers, the LCA is particularly focused on fostering international opportunities.

“You go up into Asia and you look at the Law Society of England and Wales and the English bar running around our region drumming up business for English lawyers.

“And I’m saying, ‘Hang on, we’re closer, we’re in the right time zone, we’re cheaper – why aren’t we doing the same thing?’”, said Mr Clark.

Mr McConnel took the view that Australia has already made significant inroads into Asia and is very well placed to expand its reach and positively influence the region.

“As well as going into new markets in Asia we should be … offering training in advocacy and ethics and sharing what we have developed,” he said.

Honest lawyers and reliable court systems are fundamental to building strong democratic governments in the region: “You’ve got to have somewhere to go to get a fair and just determination of disputes. It acts as a control on the power of the state,” said Mr McConnel.

“I am keen to pursue whatever assistance we can provide to Papua New Guinea and East Timor and even further afield – Fiji and the Solomon islands.

“They are all very small jurisdictions with really struggling emerging legal systems. We’ve got great opportunity and relatively enormous resources to help the profession in these places,” he concluded.