AFTER A DECADE of getting geared up for a national profession, the legal fraternity may now breathe an enormous sigh of relief. The National Legal Profession model provisions, which will propel Australia into a more effective and national legal services market, were set to be announced this week.
The landmark provisions will lead to a raft of reforms that the Law Council of Australia said would benefit lawyers, legal consumers and the nation.
Law Council president Bob Gotterson said the model bill was a “substantial legislative document that will produce a bill which can be enacted in the states and territories”.
Under the changes, lawyers will be able to practise interstate with the one practising certificate. Law degrees and practical legal training will have to have uniform standards.
There will be consistent rules dealing with trust accounts and fidelity funds, uniform definitions of misconduct, and a national system entitling foreign lawyers to practise the law of their own country in Australia.
The Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) has framed the model provisions, which will pave the way for the states and territories to begin implementing the National Profession Model Bill.
Under the Bill, struck-off lawyers will be unable to move from one state to another to continue practising. Under the current arrangements, practising certificates are state based and any conditions therefore only apply in the state in which they were given.
The changes will limit rogue lawyers from practising elsewhere in the country. But, Gotterson said, instances of striking off are not great. “It’s an important development that applies really only in relatively few instances,” he said. More important, Gotterson said, are the benefits that flow from such changes.
The reforms will not mean that all lawyers have to undergo intensive training in regard to the laws of other states and territories, Gotterson said. But the lawyer in a particular state who wants to practise in a particular field will have to make sure they are competently trained in that field of law in that state.
“Obviously if they are not, they risk not only professional sanction but also civil liability for negligence,” he said. “It will enable lawyers to practise in other states but not relieve them of skill obligations.”
University courses won’t radically change but there will be a uniform standard for law degrees in terms of the subjects which must form part of the degree. There will also be a uniform standard for practical legal training, that lawyers must undertake.
The legal profession must now wait for the final stages to be put into action. Not all the regulatory work has been completed and the Model Bill envisages regulations on particular topics, such as trust accounts. According to Gotterson, the next step is drafting model regulations, an intensive process which it is hoped will be completed by mid-year.
The completed draft legislation will be ready mid-year for individual states and territories to pick up, Gotterson said. This means it will not all start nationally on the same day, but the Law Council hoped there would not be a significant time lag.
“For the last decade the Law Council has been championing regulatory reform to facilitate the national practice of law. We applaud the commitment by Commonwealth, state and territory 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 unfolds in the states and territories,” Gotterson said.
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