Ian Weldon, the new President of the Law Society of WA is looking forward to improvements in the standards required of lawyers in WA, as well as greater competition as reforms to the laws governing his state’s legal profession commence this year.
The Legal Practice Act 2003 is in part aimed at improving professional standards by requiring that all prospective lawyers obtain a law degree, as well as preventing those who have been struck off the roll of practitioners from representing clients before tribunals, executing wills or becoming a trustee of a trust.
Weldon explained that the “thrust of [the changes] is modernisation”, and said the legal profession had been “widely consulted and involved in the reforms”.
Pinpointing key reforms the Legal Practice Board had pressed for, Weldon said he was particularly pleased with the introduction of stronger powers to suspend, place conditions on or refuse to grant or renew a practising certificate. “This is a clear change that was part of the Board’s submission,” he said.
With all the recent interest in the national profession, Weldon sees the introduction of national practising certificates into WA as one of the most important reforms for the state. Acknowledging the benefits to lawyers throughout Australia who want to practise in his own state, he also noted it was a positive change for WA’s large firms.
“It’s a benefit to the larger firms who want to bring in someone who has been admitted in one state to come and work in WA,” he explained.
Pressed as to whether he saw this as a move that might happen within other states, Weldon was positive. “For it to be a national move we would need the other states to follow. In a way we have led the way,” he pointed out. “One reason for this move [in WA] is that it provides more competition, which is good for the consumers of legal services,” he added.
The changes have been similarly praised by WA Attorney General Jim McGinty as a way to strengthen public confidence in the legal profession and “propel [it] into the 21st century”. He said the new Act would boost the industry’s professionalism and “ensure stringent safeguards for consumers”.