“Significant milestone” reached for the future of AU legal professionals

A newly established council with the aim of streamlining the legal profession in Australia has been appointed, and its inaugural chair is the former Federal Court Chief Justice

The Attorneys-General of Victoria and NSW have announced the appointment of the inaugural members of the newly established Uniform Legal Services Council.

The council, which will play a key role in the new uniform legal services scheme and will oversee the implementation of the Legal Profession Uniform Law, is headed up by former Federal Court Chief Justice Michael Black AC, QC.

Black will be part of the five-member council, who were nominated by the Australian Bar Association, the Law Council, and the Attorney-Generals of NSW and Victoria.

The other four inaugural members are Steven Stevens, former president of the Law Institute of Victoria, Bret Walker SC, former president of the Law Council and NSW Bar Association, Fiona Bennett, chair of the Victorian Legal Services Board, and Kim Boettcher, a top lawyer with extensive experience in corporate governance and consumer advocacy internationally.

Both the Australian Bar Association (ABA) and the Law Council of Australia have congratulated the move, and say a national profession makes sense.

Law council president-elect Duncan McConnel previously told Australasian Lawyer that the intention of the legislation is to eliminate the regulatory differences between states and territories that are impeding the profession both domestically and internationally

“Participation by jurisdictions like Victoria [and] New South Wales…will help to ensure that lawyers operate under the same rules and professional standards; consumers have access to the same consumer protections; the market for legal services is open to all practitioners regardless of jurisdiction; and the regulatory system supports participation in the international legal services market,” he says.

Lawyers across Australia will benefit because the Uniform Law would mean a single set of rules governing matters such as practising certificate types and conditions, admission requirements, CPD requirements, complaints handling processes and billing arrangements, he says.

It will also make it much easier for practitioners to move from one jurisdiction to another, both because of the common admission and practicing certificate requirements and because those who move will not be required to learn the obligations and regulatory requirements of the new jurisdiction.

The president of the Law Council, Michael Colbran, is delighted to see that former chief justice Black has been appointed to chair the new Uniform Legal Services Council.

“Mr Black is recognised for his responsive and innovative approach to procedural change and for his outstanding academic skills,” he says. “His consultative nature combined with his broad background and extensive experience at the Bar and the Federal Court bench, will prove invaluable in his role with the council.”

ABA president Mark Livesey QC also told Australasian Lawyer of his support for the new council.

Its creation is a “significant milestone” in the move towards a uniform national profession, he says.

“I think Michael Black is a leading Australian lawyer who will bring a great deal of expertise and common sense to the development of the council, and the four other members appear to have the background and expertise required to direct activities of the council towards this new phase of a national profession,” he says.

Livesay thinks the appointment of the inaugural council will also have more far-reaching implications on a national scale.

Until now there has been a certain amount of misgiving in some of the jurisdictions about a uniform national profession, he says.

“But I’m hopeful if the current council is able to demonstrate the successful working of the national profession, there will be opportunities for other jurisdictions to join in.”

In September, Australasian Lawyer reported that the Law Society of WA had recommended the adoption of the Legal Profession Uniform Law to the Attorney-General for Western Australia, Michael Mischin.

If approved, it would mean over three quarters of the country’s legal practitioners will be operating under streamlined and seamless law in the future.

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