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Bringing in the new uniform

News

Cite as: Jan/Feb 2015 89 (1/2) LIJ, p.24

Commissioner for Uniform Legal Services Regulation Dale Boucher explains the new Uniform Law regime in the first of a two-part LIJ Q & A .

What does the new uniform legislation mean for the small practitioner in the suburbs?

The Uniform Law introduces benefits for small, suburban practitioners including:

  • a standard costs disclosure form making it simpler for lawyers to meet their disclosure obligations in matters up to $3000; no disclosure is required under $750;
  • the form will help lawyers manage their client’s expectations early in the relationship and establish clear communications that may assist any dispute resolution without regulatory involvement;
  • local regulators will be able to resolve service complaints in new ways and cost disputes will be resolved quickly and informally;
  • suburban lawyers will benefit as software and services are developed to meet the needs of most lawyers working in participating jurisdictions (rather than having to be tailored to suit eight regulatory environments).

What are your aims for the first 12 months and is one aim that other states and territories join the scheme?

The primary aim of the Council for the next five months is to ensure the Uniform Law can commence for the participating jurisdictions on 1 July 2015. To achieve this, the Council has prepared draft general Uniform Rules and is currently consulting on them. At the same time the Council has approved consultation being undertaken by the Law Council of Australia (LCA) and the Australian Bar Association about draft legal practice, legal profession conduct and continuing professional development rules. The Admissions Committee is also consulting about proposed admission rules.

An important part of the Council’s work is to encourage other jurisdictions to join the Uniform Law scheme. We have already undertaken consultations with stakeholders and that will be a continuing part of the Council’s work. The Council wants to work towards a unified legal profession for Australia.

When will detailed rules for solicitors be introduced and will there be an opportunity for submissions regarding amendments to the Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules once introduced?

The proposed draft general Uniform Rules were released by the Legal Services Council for comment on 28 November 2014. Comment is sought. Proposed legal practice, legal profession conduct and continuing professional development rules have also been released by the LCA and Australian Bar Association for comment and submissions. The Legal Services Council will see all submissions that are made and will also be able to make comments of its own.

Uniform trust rules and forms will most likely change timelines for Victorian practitioners – will there be a staged introduction or grace period to enable trust accounting software to be updated?

The Council is considering the need and opportunities for harmonisation of timelines under the Uniform Law in relation to trust accounting. Such harmonisation will only be considered after consultation with lawyers, consumers and the community. If a period is required to enable trust accounting software to be updated, I would encourage submissions to be made to the Council on that point.

Will some Victorian law firms need to restructure to come into line with the new regulations?

The Uniform Law is intended to facilitate, rather than restrict, the structures that may be adopted by legal practices. That approach is endorsed in, for example, section 32.

The Council is aware that the current Victorian statute recognises partnerships of incorporated legal practices (ILP) as “law firms” and that, while the Uniform Law does not prohibit such partnerships, it also does not specifically recognise them as “law firms”. Therefore, if Victorian law firms identify a need to restructure under the Uniform Law, I encourage them to submit associated problems to the Council for its consideration.

I also note that an entity that was an ILP or a multi-disciplinary partnership (MDP) under the old law is taken to be an ILP or MDP under the Uniform Law. The Council would like to know if those transitional provisions will adequately address any issues that are perceived.

Do you support the ability of firms to deliver bills of costs electronically, if the client consents?

It is important for the Uniform Council and Commissioner to make it easier for firms to do business and not restrict their activities unnecessarily. The ability of firms to deliver bills electronically seems sensible to me. The Council is consulting on a rule to that effect, proposed Uniform General rule 69, and will make a decision based on any submissions it receives on the matter.

Will there be new rules for costs assessors making assessments?

Costs assessments will be conducted in accordance with the Uniform Law and local legislation (including the Uniform Law Application Act in each participating jurisdiction). General Uniform Rules may also apply. The Council may make general Uniform Rules with respect to costs assessments.

The Council is, for example, consulting on a proposed general Uniform Rule 71 which provides that, for the purposes of section 199 of the Uniform Law, if, after receiving notice under section 198(8) a party to the costs assessment does not participate in the assessment, assessment may proceed and be determined, in the absence of that party. The Council is seeking comments on this proposed rule.

Whether that rule or any other rules should be made in relation to costs assessments is something on which the Council would welcome submissions and the outcome will depend on the consideration of the comments made in the consultation process and the Council’s own views.

How will you approach the issue of mental health of lawyers in the regulatory context?

Mental health is an important issue for the community and for people in all walks of life and it is of course an issue of particular relevance to the legal profession.

While I understand that applicable policies have been developed by some local regulators, the Council invites submissions on the role it should play in developing Uniform Rules, policies or guidelines on it and on other important issues.


Part two of the Q&A with Dale Boucher will appear in March LIJ.

Dale boucher: career at a glance

“I was born in Bairnsdale and have a law degree from the University of Melbourne. Much of my legal career has been with the Commonwealth. In all, I worked for 28 years with the Attorney-General’s Department. I was appointed Australian Government Solicitor in 1993 and led the organisation through the early stages of commercialisation. In 1997, I was designated CEO of AGS. In 1999, I undertook a short review as an associate member of the former Australian Communications Authority, before becoming a partner with Minter Ellison in Canberra.

From 2003 until 2009, I operated my own legal and consulting business before being appointed as the inaugural chairman of the Tax Practitioners Board. I completed my term in that role in January 2013. After a further period consulting I started as the CEO of the Legal Services Council and Commissioner for Uniform Legal Services Regulation on 29 September 2014. While my office is required to be in Sydney, I anticipate spending more time in Victoria in 2015.”

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