UK-Australia free trade agreement allows lawyers to practise in both jurisdictions

The deal was applauded by both the Law Council of Australia and the UK Law Society

UK-Australia free trade agreement allows lawyers to practise in both jurisdictions

The establishment of the UK-Australia free trade agreement (FTA) will allow lawyers to practise in both jurisdictions – a move that addresses the cross-border practice barriers between the two countries.

The announcement of the agreement was applauded by both the Law Council of Australia and the UK Law Society

“The FTA will confirm that both Australian and UK lawyers can practise as foreign lawyers and provide arbitration, mediation and conciliation services in the other jurisdiction using their home qualifications and title,” said Dr Jacoba Brasch, president of the Law Council of Australia.

This freedom will “make doing business easier for clients,” UK Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said.

“The FTA is a springboard to continue developing the relationship between Australia and the UK. The two countries already have a strong foundation given the long-standing relationship between Australian and the UK legal regulators, representative bodies and professionals,” Boyce said. “However, there are still practical barriers that prevent the realisation of the full benefit of trade in legal services between our countries.”

These cross-practice barriers include high costs for clients, reduced opportunities overseas for local lawyers and limited skills transfer and contribution to the local industry in lieu of a major organisation’s support, the UK Law Society said.

“Before the negotiations, we were clear that it would be beneficial for the legal sector to have a greater variety of business structures – such as the UK LLP – available in both jurisdictions, greater recognition of professional qualifications, regardless of route to qualification and without need for additional study, as well as increased mobility options,” Boyce said.

The UK Law Society president confirmed that the UK government was considering its recommendation to ease up mobility. Moreover, companies can now sponsor FTA-committed visas even without a test for economic needs.

“Junior lawyers will be given greater mobility through unprecedented changes to the UK and Australia’s Youth Mobility Schemes – by making them available to nationals no older than 35 for a stay of up to three years, without having to undertake specified regional work,” Boyce said.

The Law Council of Australia also brought up methods to execute the two-way mobility in its communication with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

In addition, Boyce highlighted the data protection concerns addressed by the FTA.

“The agreement also commits to increasing opportunities for digital trade across all sectors of the economy, while also ensuring standards for personal data protection and for legitimate public policy objectives,” she said. “This is particularly important for the legal sector, and we will continue to emphasise the unique professional obligations of lawyers in any data discussions.”

Boyce said it was crucial that the “personal data processed by law firms are well-protected” in an FTA, as are the “fundamental rights of client confidentiality and legal professional privilege.”

“We now look forward to taking new steps to facilitating international business with our colleagues in Australia,” she said. “While the final agreement is yet to come, these commitments are a step in the right direction for both our legal professions and we will continue to seek the best deal for members in these discussions.”

Legal services should be a standard inclusion in all UK FTA discussions, Boyce said, as “solicitors help negotiate business deals around the world.”

The Law Council will also be looking to continue discussions with key stakeholders “with a view to reducing remaining barriers for Australian and UK lawyers,” Brasch said.

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