State jealousies have impeded the national practice of law but have “attenuated considerably over recent years throughout Australia”, according to NSW’s most senior judge.
Speaking at a function to mark the opening of the NSW law term in Parliament House last week, the Chief Justice of NSW James Spigelman AC, said the next year would prove crucial in ensuring the regulatory regime was not only nationally consistent, “but also optimal”.
Chief Justice Spigelman told the NSW Law Society dinner that “whilst it remains the case that the overwhelming majority of legal practitioners operate within the confines of a state, or indeed of a local community, a substantial proportion of legal services, particularly when assessed in terms of monetary value, are performed at, or contestable at, a national level”.
Spigelman added that a state based and nationally consistent regulatory framework could satisfy both sets of demands.
Referring to lawyers’ perspectives on what he called the “likely” development of a regulatory framework for a national practice, Spigelman said that “lawyers in Sydney should be, and I believe are, particularly enthusiastic about the emergence of opportunities for a truly national practice”.
Another key issue raised by the Chief Justice was the legal profession’s preferred method of charging, that is, billable hours. He said that over a period of 10 years, time based charging had become almost universal and that he did not believe this method of charging was sustainable.
“It is difficult to justify a system in which inefficiency is rewarded with higher remuneration,” he added, raising loud applause within the Strangers’ dining room at Parliament House.
Spigelman said under the present system, lawyers did not have the financial incentive to provide their services as quickly as possible. He noted that for most legal practitioners the sense of professional responsibility was a real restraint, but a handful of members still exploited their position “by providing services that either do not need to be provided at all, or [they] provide them in a more luxurious manner than is appropriate”.
Law Society president Gordon Salier spoke earlier in the evening about this issue. He said that “perhaps some special inquiry might be established to look at the issue of costs and make appropriate recommendations”. In relation to this issue, he said it was preferable that justice was attained primarily through “good law”.