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National profession must not come at a price


Cite as:  December 2009 83(12) LIJ, p.15

A uniform system regulating the practice of law in Australia should be realised without any reduction in the independence of the profession and cost no more than the current system, the LIV and Law Council of Australia (LCA) say.

A Council of Australian Governments (COAG) taskforce, created by the federal government earlier this year, will finalise draft legislation for a single national profession by 30 April 2010.

LIV CEO Michael Brett Young said consultation with membership bodies needed to be increased and he was “most concerned that any changes to the regulatory regime did not result in higher expenses to the profession”.

“There should be a simplification and streamlining of the current 55 regulators nationwide, but certainly not extra costs.

“If the [federal] government does this with higher practising certificate fees, then we would be very disappointed,” he said.

For several years the LIV and LCA have called for a national profession, arguing that it would reduce costs, unnecessary red tape and institutionalised barriers to movement of work and practitioners across jurisdictions.

The taskforce has investigated several options but may recommend that one model be legislated in one jurisdiction and then applied to all others.

Under the preferred “national model”, a national legal services board (NLSB) would regulate all jurisdictions but delegate power to local entities to hear disciplinary matters and issue practising certificates.

Mr Brett Young said the LIV supported aspects of the national model and reiterated the need for functions to be delegated to state-based membership organisations and other bodies.

He said the NLSB should set standards and requirements for practising certificates, nationally-recognised compulsory professional development, trust accounts, fidelity funds, professional indemnity insurance, entry, conduct and admission rules, a single costs agreement and keep a national registry of lawyers and disciplinary orders.

Under a complaints model being investigated, a national ombudsman would be in a principal-agent relationship with the existing state and territory bodies.

Mr Brett Young also said law firms operating in more than one state should be permitted to have a single trust account.

LCA president John Corcoran said one requirement standing above all others was the independence of the legal profession.

“A vital part of this is that its members set the standards of professional conduct, and also play a part in the regulation of the profession. The new system must accept these fundamental propositions,” he said.

Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland has said the new system would have greater transparency in billing, be consumer-driven and include a clear, accessible and affordable complaints mechanism.

Mr Brett Young said national standards may also allow suitably-qualified overseas lawyers easier access to Australia and help solve the dwindling stocks of country lawyers.

The LIV is represented on a consultative group working alongside the taskforce by LIV Professional Standards manager Harold Cottee.

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