National Legal Profession Reform – Background Information

On 5 February 2009, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to add legal profession regulation to its microeconomic and regulatory reform agenda. Jurisdictions have been working toward consistent national regulation of the legal profession for many years, however substantial differences remained. On 30 April 2009, COAG agreed to set up a Taskforce on reform of the regulation of the legal profession, with the objective of achieving uniform laws across jurisdictions.

A Consultative Group was also established, chaired by the Hon Michael Lavarch, Executive Dean at Queensland University of Technology and former Commonwealth Attorney-General, to advise and assist the Taskforce in its work. The Consultative Group contained members from every State and Territory and represented expertise from regulators, the courts, consumers, the legal profession and legal educators.

At its meeting on 19 April 2010, COAG agreed to the National Legal Profession Taskforce releasing a package for consultation (the draft Legal Profession National Law, draft Legal Profession National Rules, consultation Regulation Impact Statement and Consultation Report). The Taskforce also released a supplementary consultation paper. Consultation ran from 14 May to 13 August 2010. The package is available from the Document Library.

Having considered all submissions received, and issued an interim report on possible changes in a number of key areas, in December 2010 the National Legal Profession Reform Taskforce provided its final regulatory package to COAG. At its 10 December 2010 meeting, the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General noted the final draft of the Legal Profession National Law which had been presented to COAG, along with the draft National Rules, final Regulation Impact Statement and draft inter-governmental agreement. On 14 February 2011, COAG agreed in principle to settle reforms to legal profession regulation by May 2011 (with the exception of Western Australia and South Australia).

Since December 2010, the National Justice CEOs approved a number of amendments to the National Law to address concerns raised. The revised National Law is available on the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) National Legal Profession Reform webpage.

History of legal profession reform

In July 1994, the Law Council of Australia produced a paper entitled Blueprint for the Structure of the Legal Profession: A National Market for Legal Services, in which the Council set out a reform agenda for the legal profession across Australia. This blueprint contained the following general principles and objectives for the profession:

National competition policy principles apply to the legal profession.
Lawyers admitted in any State or Territory of Australia are able to practise law throughout Australia.
Existing constraints which prevent a lawyer's right to practise without restriction throughout Australia are removed in order to facilitate the development of a national market in legal services.
Recognition that the independence of the legal profession is dependent upon the profession's right to self regulation.
The system of regulation of the legal profession is implemented by uniform State and Territory legislation.
The self regulation of the legal profession is subject to an external and transparent process of accountability to ensure that the rules of the professional bodies are not inconsistent with national competition policy principles.
The protection of consumers of legal services through comprehensive education and training of the legal profession and the development of a uniform standard of client care.
Proper information is available for consumers of legal services as to quality and cost of legal services.

The National Competition Policy reforms of the 1990s and the advent of mutual recognition of entitlement to practise interstate greatly improved legal profession regulation in Australia.

In July 2001, the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG), which comprises the Commonwealth, State and Territory and New Zealand Attorneys General, discussed the need for a more uniform approach to the regulation of the legal profession and agreed that officers should develop proposals for model laws for consideration by Ministers.

In 2004, SCAG released a draft Model Bill. The Model Bill was aimed at harmonising the laws across jurisdictions. In August 2006, a revised version of the Model Bill was released (with minor corrections released 2 February 2007). The Model Bill removed significant barriers to interstate legal practice to allow greater competition in the provision of legal services, both within Australia and globally. All jurisdictions except South Australia have incorporated the Model Bill into their Legal Profession Acts.

SCAG Model Bill - August 2006 (PDF, 1.9mb)
SCAG Model Regulations - June 2007 (PDF, 356kb)

Taskforce Members

Chair: Mr Roger Wilkins AO, Secretary, Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department
Mr Bill Grant, Secretary-General, Law Council of Australia
Mr Laurie Glanfield AM, Director General, NSW Attorney General’s Department
Mr Stephen Goggs, Deputy Chief Executive, ACT Department of Justice and Community Safety
Ms Louise Glanville, Executive Director, Victorian Department of Justice.

Consultative group

Chair: Professor the Hon Michael Lavarch, Executive Dean, Queensland University of Technology, former Australian Attorney-General and former Secretary-General of the Law Council of Australia.
Mr Tony Abbott, Chairman at Piper Alderman and past President of the Law Council of Australia.
Ms Carolyn Bond, Co-Chief Executive Officer of the Consumer Action Law Centre Victoria, and member of the Board of the Legal Service Board of Victoria.
Ms Barbara Bradshaw, Chief Executive Officer, Northern Territory Law Society.
Mr John Briton, Legal Services Commissioner of Queensland and former Queensland Anti Discrimination Commissioner and State Director of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
Mr Joseph Catanzariti, President, Law Society of New South Wales, and partner at Clayton Utz.
Mr Robert Cornall AO, former Secretary of the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department, has been a Managing Director of Victoria Legal Aid, Executive Director and Secretary of the Law Institute of Victoria, and a partner and managing partner in a private legal firm.
Ms Ro Coroneos, President of the NSW Division and a Director of the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association.
Mr Harold Cottee, General Manager, Professional Standards, Law Institute of Victoria
Mr Andrew Grech, Managing Director, Slater & Gordon, Melbourne.
Mr Martyn Hagan, Executive Director, Law Society of Tasmania.
Ms Noela L’Estrange, Chief Executive Officer, Queensland Law Society and former Director of Legal Practice Support, Australian Government Solicitor.
Mr Robert Milliner, Chief Executive Partner, Mallesons Stephen Jaques, Chairman of the Large Law Firm Group Limited and member of the Board of the Business Council of Australia.
Mr Steven Penglis, member of the Legal Practice Board of Western Australia.
Mr Andrew Phelan, Chief Executive and Principal Registrar, High Court of Australia, and Secretary, Council of Chief Justices.
Mr Philip Selth OAM, Executive Director, New South Wales Bar Association.
Professor Peta Spender, Presidential Member ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal, and Professor of Law, Australian National University.
Mr Dudley Stow, President, The Law Society of Western Australia.
The Hon Justice Murray Tobias AM RFD, Supreme Court of New South Wales and presiding member of the New South Wales Legal Profession Admission Board.

View frequently asked questions related to the National Legal Profession Reform.