Incoming law society presidents across various states and territories have told Lawyers Weekly today that their concerns regarding the national reform process of the legal profession will remain their top priority for 2010.
In April this year, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed that they would consider draft legislation on uniform laws offering national regulation of the Australian legal profession within 12 months.
The national laws may include everything from creating a national system for admission, to issuing practicing certificates, dealing with complaints, billing regulations and professional discipline.
But jurisdictions with small practitioner numbers - including the Northern Territory and Western Australia - told Lawyers Weekly that they are concerned their members may be disadvantaged by the proposed changes, and that any additional costs that may result from the changes might not be fairly dispersed across their practitioner bases - which are much smaller than NSW and Victoria.
"The big issue is cost," said Hylton Quail, the Law Society of WA's incoming president for 2010. "It's the elephant in the room that everybody is tiptoeing around. Who is going to pay for this national body? We're concerned that it will increase local practicing costs which will then, necessarily, impact on the cost of the delivery of legal services."
Quail also expressed concern over the reform process deferring the powers of the Legal Practice Board of WA to a centralised ombudsman-like office in Canberra. It was a concern that Matthew Storey, the incoming Law Society of Northern Territory president also agreed with: "The issue for us would be, what sort of presence could an office like that have in the Northern Territory," said Storey.
"You could end up with somebody in Canberra or Sydney trying to manage services remotely, now that doesn't provide a great service for practitioners [in NT], or for their clients.
In a statement released to Lawyers Weekly, the Law Society of NSW said that it too will focus its efforts on how the evolution of the new regulatory system will occur and, in particular, on ensuring that it does not increase current costs involved in the delivery of legal services.
Over in Queensland, the incoming Law Society president, Peter Eardley, said one of his prime concerns on the reform process is the lack of information currently being circulated regarding the proposals.
"It would be fair to say that every law society is disappointed at the lack of real guts and the face-to-face understanding of what the reform process is meant to show, there's a lack of detail," he said.
"It's the implementation of a lot of the changes proposed that we are unsure about, and which we're not convinced that the government can deliver via a new model, at no extra cost."
- Angela Priestley
Lawyers Weekly is currently speaking to the 2010 law society presidents about their concerns for the coming year. A full feature will appear in next Friday's edition of Lawyers Weekly.