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From the President: Road to reform

Every Issue

Cite as: Jan/Feb 2010 84(1/2) LIJ, p.4

While it's possible to be more optimistic about the Australian economy this year, there are still a number of challenges facing the legal profession.

I hope all members have had an opportunity to have a relaxing break with family and friends before returning to practice for what promises to be a challenging year.

Before I speak to you in my first column as president about upcoming challenges, it is important to remember how strong we are as a profession.

If we cast our minds back to the start of 2009, we all recall the pervasive doom and gloom that the economy and the community faced. There was a large degree of uncertainty and caution which made for a difficult legal services market.

However, the fact that the general perception now is that economic conditions and the outlook have improved markedly is not to suggest that legal practice this year is going to be easy.

We all face an economic climate which will continue to be tough and challenging. This means that as practitioners we need to continue providing excellence in serving our clients, whether they be public or private, individual or corporate, community or commercial.

The LIV’s core objective has to be to provide support for all possible facets of practice requirements for our members, irrespective of the legal services market sector in which our members operate. Whether it be helping members to achieve continuing professional development requirements, providing a referral service to help address difficult questions of professional conduct and ethics or providing information services needed for practice, we need to be the first port of call for our members.

The LIV is first and foremost a member services organisation. Its Council, elected by our membership, needs to keep this objective in mind in all of its deliberations.

With this in mind, this year Council will review the range of LIV member services to ensure we are providing everything we should to our members.

I am particularly keen to ensure we try to address the different concerns of all our members, within the constraints of our budget, including larger and midtier firms, smaller and sole practices, government, corporate and community lawyers.

One of the most important reforms scheduled to be completed this year is the National Profession Project, which commenced in 2009 by agreement between the Commonwealth and the states.

Our expectation is that it should result in the replacement of the current system of regulation of the legal profession, involving an estimated 55 different bodies, with a simplified regulatory structure.

Under this structure, the LIV believes a national legal services board should be created but discrete regulatory authorities should remain responsible for carrying out the regulation in each state and territory, including dealing with complaints and applying common national standards.

The outcome needs to be a simpler, streamlined regulatory structure for the profession, which is more efficient and less costly than the current system.

If such an outcome can be achieved, we will all benefit. But if we replace one complex regulatory system with another, if regulatory costs borne by the profession increase and if we end up with the loss of the independence of the profession, the whole project will have failed.

We intend to guard against such outcomes and we know that other stakeholders, such as our sister law societies, the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Bar Association, have a common view that the independence of the profession from executive government must be maintained.

The LIV has strong concerns and objections to some current proposals released by the National Profession Regulation Taskforce, such as:

  • that lawyers found not guilty in respect of a complaint may have costs awarded against them; and
  • that lawyers may be refused a copy of any complaint made against them.

The other important challenge facing the legal profession is the critical shortage of funding for legal aid services in Victoria.

This is a matter we will continue to pursue strongly, given the resultant denial of access to justice. We will particularly seek increases in federal funding, which currently results in the lowest per capita funding in Victoria.

Council faces significant challenges in pursing these objectives in the new year. If such an outcome can be achieved, we will all benefit.

Before finishing my first column, I would like to express on behalf of the Victorian profession our gratitude for the outstanding year Danny Barlow has completed as 2009 LIV president.

Many of the objectives Council will pursue in 2010 arise from initiatives commenced under Danny’s leadership. I hope to build on the hard work put into them by Danny.


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