National Legal Profession Reform and Consumers

The National Legal Profession Reform project was initiated by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to create uniform national legal profession regulation as part of its microeconomic reform agenda. A National Legal Profession Taskforce was established to progress these reforms. The Taskforce has now formally recommended a range of legislative measures to COAG.

The Taskforce’s proposals aim to promote high quality provision of legal services and accessible, efficient dispute resolution where services do not meet expected standards. One of the key areas of uniformity is to deliver consistent rights and remedies to consumers regardless of where they live in Australia.

The Taskforce conducted a public consultation on the proposed reforms from 14 May to 13 August 2010. Targeted consumer consultation was also undertaken during this period. The consultation designed by the Taskforce (in collaboration with consumer representatives, including representatives sitting on the National Legal Profession Reform Consultative Group) comprised panel discussions with consumers and consumer representatives, an online survey, telephone interviews and a follow up consumer panel meeting. This information was used to create a Consumer Report, which was provided to the Taskforce on 20 August 2010.

Consumer Report (MS Word, 512kb)
Consumer Report (PDF, 523kb)

The key proposals in the proposed National Law and National Rules that may be of interest to consumers are:

    Legal costs

    Practitioners will be obliged to ensure that they charge no more than fair and reasonable costs and that they provide consumers with sufficient information to allow them to make informed decisions about legal costs. This is intended to promote cost disclosure that is tailored to each client’s needs.

    The relevant provisions in the proposed National Law and Rules are:

    National Law – Chapter 4, Part 4.3 (MS Word, 122kb)
    National Law – Chapter 4, Part 4.3 (PDF, 74kb)
    National Rules – Chapter 4, Part 4.3 (MS Word, 23kb)
    National Rules – Chapter 4, Part 4.3 (PDF, 7kb)

    Complaints and dispute resolution

    The proposed National Law provides a uniform set of provisions in relation to complaints handling and dispute resolution, which will provide consumers of legal services with consistent rights and remedies across Australia. The provisions are designed to provide a more flexible, efficient and consumer-focused complaints system.

    Under the proposal, there will be an independent complaints handling body in each State and Territory to handle consumers’ complaints against lawyers about the nature and level of service provided, including small costs disputes. The complaints handlers will have the power to determine consumer matters (for example, by ordering the lawyer to apologise or redo work) when agreement cannot be reached between the parties.

    These complaints handlers will also have the power to initiate disciplinary proceedings, if necessary, in the appropriate tribunal.

    The proposed National Law also establishes an independent National Legal Services Commissioner to oversee the work of the State and Territory complaints handlers to ensure consistent outcomes.

    The relevant provisions in the proposed National Law are:

    National Law – Chapter 5 (MS Word, 184kb)
    National Law – Chapter 5 (PDF, 116kb)

    Fidelity funds

    The National Law contains a legislative principle that will require that claims against a fidelity fund must be determined independently, at arm’s length from the profession.

    The relevant provisions in the proposed National Law and Rules are:

    National Law - Chapter 4, Part 4.5 (MS Word, 123kb)
    National Law – Chapter 4, Part 4.5 (PDF, 68kb)
    National Rules – Chapter 4, Part 4.5 (MS Word, 26kb)
    National Rules – Chapter 4, Part 4.5 (PDF, 14kb)