What would uniform laws mean for Australian lawyers?

Posted 12 May 2016

Back in July 2015, the Legal Profession Uniform Law came into effect, transforming the way the legal profession is regulated in both New South Wales and Victoria. The changes will currently be having a huge impact on the way individuals in legal jobs conduct themselves. 

But what does this mean for Australian lawyers currently practising in these jurisdictions and will this be expanded to other states and territories?

The legislative change brought Australia closer to realising a nation-wide uniform regulatory scheme. The initial step created a homogenous framework of practising rules that replaced the Legal Profession Act 2004 in both jurisdictions. 

The aim of the reforms are to develop a common legal services market across both states, which is structured by a uniform regulatory system. This will govern segments of the market such as certificate types and licensing conditions, governance of trust accounts, billing arrangements and professional and public complaints. 

With the current arrangement only encompassing New South Wales and Victoria, there is an expectation for other states to be slowly introduced. However, due to the logistics of this, lawyers in government legal jobs will need to accomplish the groundwork well in advance to ensure a smooth transition. 

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, Law Council of Australia President Stuart Clark believed that the next state to be included would be Queensland or Western Australia. 

"We have successfully implemented the Uniform Law in 75 per cent of the profession: that is NSW and Victoria," Mr Clark said. 

"The challenge is now to bring in the next big jurisdiction. I think it will either be Queensland or Western Australia."

The president also acknowledged that for many governments this is not the most pressing issue. At the same time, some lawyers are worried about losing the traditions and history associated with their respective judicial systems. 

However, he was adamant that once legal professionals embraced the Uniform Law, they would be unwilling to return to the old system. 

"You look at every other example where we've done these things - corporations' law, family law - it's taken awhile, but we've got there and nobody would now go back," he said.

It's not surprising that there is a slight pushback on the uniform law, but with three-quarters of the legal profession now under this framework, a huge segment of the hard work has been accomplished.

As the system matures, and any bugs or issues are removed, it should provide a functional framework for both practitioners and the public alike. Additionally, as the benefits become more visible, it will no doubt encourage other states and territories to jump on board in the coming years.