THE MODEL Bill on the national legal profession, released last week by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG), has been welcomed by federal A-G Philip Ruddock as well as the Law Council of Australia, which argued it would propel Australia closer to a more effective and truly national legal services market.
Two weeks ago, Lawyers Weekly reported that the national legal profession model provisions were set to be announced. But it was not until the beginning of last week that SCAG actually announced its arrival, despite the legal profession’s expectations.
A-G Ruddock acknowledged that the process had taken longer than he would have liked, and said it would now be “vital that state and territory Attorneys-General ensure the Model Bill is implemented as soon as practicable”.
“Effective measures should be quickly put in place to ensure the legislation and regulations to be made under the Model Bill remain consistent over the long term,” Ruddock said.
Law Council president Bob Gotterson said the finalisation of the Model Bill was a landmark event. It would lead to a raft of reforms “that we believe will benefit national legal practice, practitioners and consumers”.
“Under the changes, lawyers will be able to practise interstate with the one practising certificate. There will be a uniform standard for law degrees and practical legal training,” he said.
The Bill covered a number of key areas, including entitlement to engage in legal work, trust accounts, costs, fidelity cover, complaints and discipline, and the ability of lawyers to practice through corporations and in partnership with other professionals.
Ruddock was pleased that the states and territories had demonstrated their commitment to the project by agreeing to the text of the Model Bill, he said.
Its implementation by all jurisdictions in Australia would remove significant barriers to national legal practice, leading to more effective competition amongst lawyers, for the benefit of consumers, Ruddock said.
“For the last decade the Law Council has been championing regulatory reform to facilitate the national practice of law. We applaud the commitment by [the Attorneys-General] to removing significant barriers to interstate legal practice and allowing greater competition within the market,” Gotterson said.
Over the coming months, the project will be at the top of the Law Council’s agenda. “The emphasis of the Law Council’s long term work will be to facilitate a smooth transition as adoption of the harmonised national standards unfold in the states and territories,” Gotterson said.