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Uniform national legal profession a priority in 2005

Uniform national legal profession a priority in 2005

As the end of January signalled the official end of the holiday season, organisations and business started to get down to the nitty gritty of the ‘new year’. Lawyers Weekly spoke t

As the end of January signalled the official end of the holiday season, organisations and business started to get down to the nitty gritty of the new year. Lawyers Weekly spoke to the presidents of each of the states law societies to find out what they expected from the year ahead. From all accounts, national legal profession legislation looked set to steal centre stage and claim prominence on the agendas of each of the societies.

Daniel ZeemanLaw Society of Tasmania

Daniel Zeeman, who replaced David Gunson late last year, hopes 2005 will bring about an “overhaul of the legal profession”. The Law Society has recently been involved in an ongoing discussion with the state’s Attorney-General in an attempt to have an independent board established for the investigation of complaints against lawyers. The aim is to increase the public’s confidence in the legal profession, Zeeman said.

“The major challenge for me is to ensure that before my term ends we have legislation in force and operating that deals with disciplinary matters as far as the legal profession is concerned,” Zeeman said.

Bill Redpath, Law Society of the ACT

Bill Redpath, who took up his post in September 2003, expects the Society to have a strong involvement in the passing of the national model legislation for the Territory.

The legislation would “provide opportunities for the legal profession but also benefit the public in transparency of disciplinary processes”, he said.

As well, there may be a national campaign against legislation that took “people’s compensation rights in the interest of insurance companies’ profits”, and a focus on ways to make legal practices more flexible given increased numbers of women in the profession.

His goal is to have the national practice model in working order by 1 July and he also hopes the Society will develop a model employment contract for junior solicitors.

John McIntyre, Law Society of NSW

Having this year replaced Sydney-based president Gordon Salier, John McIntyre said the Society would attempt to “raise the level of debate in Australia in relation to adopting a Bill of Rights”, and is currently finalising an issues paper on this.

The biggest challenge of 2005, however, would be to convince the public and politicians that lawyers don’t deserve the “low rating we currently seem to have in terms of public relations”, he said. The most important issue for the profession in NSW would be the implementation of the national legal profession act, he said.

Celia Searle, Law Society of WA

Following the establishment of a new court of appeal, Celia Searle said 2005 would bring changes to the way justice is administered in the state.

“One court of appeal means there’s a dedicated judge and we will get into the swing of consistency of decisions,” she said.

Searle’s goal for the year ahead is to introduce a broader range of membership activities, to assist with work/life balance issues and to lift membership numbers.

Insurance and the establishment of a compulsory professional development (CPD) scheme would be major issues, particularly ensuring adequate access to CPD programs for regional practitioners, Searle said.

Searle replaces Perth barrister Ian Weldon as president this year.

Glenn Ferguson, Queensland Law Society

Glenn Ferguson, who took up his post in 2003, said 2005 would be an exciting year in which people would look forward rather than back. He said he is “very keen” on the national legal profession act, which would provide stability for the profession.

The challenge would be to start looking at how the profession was going to operate over the next 10 years, Ferguson said. “Globalisation is having a big effect, and I’m particularly interested in the liberalisation of legal services throughout the Asia Pacific region.”

The implementation of the national legal profession act would be of huge significance as a huge amount of time and effort had been dedicated to it, he said.

Alexander Ward, Law Society of SA

“With regard to the national practice, it’s important to me to ensure that [the legal profession in SA] maintains its individuality,” said Alexander Ward, who recently replaced David Howard as president of the Law Society in that state. He said the concept should not result in everybody “being absorbed into one big group”.

“We’ve got a sweet deal here, it all runs well, insurance is good, practice is good, we have to make sure we don’t lose our identity,” he added.

As well, he said the Society would look after young lawyers and attempt to change the practice of time-based billing. He also wants to build on the positive role lawyers have in the community.

Victoria Strong, Law Institute of Victoria

Understandably, Victoria Strong expects 2005 to be “the biggest year of my life to date — it’s going to be busy and it’s going to be a challenge for me, both personally and professionally,” she said.

The implementation phase of the national legal profession act would be “quite a challenge”, she said, and in order for it to be successful, Victorian practitioners would need to know how the legislation would impact on them.

Merran Short, Law Society of the NT

The Society this year faces a busy legislative program and a state election, during which it will lobby both sides of government on issues including tort law. The development of more effective pro bono arrangements and funding arrangements for indigenous legal aid services will also be a priority.

“The Society is reviewing its complaints procedures and only last year gained jurisdiction to investigate some complaints regarding costs,” Society president Merran Short said.

The Society was looking forward to the development of the National Model Legal Profession Bill, mandatory CLE arrangements and a professional standards scheme, she said.

“Amendments to the criminal code relating to diminished responsibility and discussions regarding Aboriginal customary laws will also be important”, Short said, particularly since 80 per cent of NT prisoners are indigenous.”

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