Law Council of Australia’s 2016 policy to improve equity in the profession hits milestone

The Law Council of Australia’s 2016 policy to improve equity in the legal profession has achieved its central aim. The Equitable Briefing Policy 2016 aimed to have female barristers receive  instructions in 30% of all matters by 1st July 2020. A recent report states this goal has been achieved, with 31% of all instructions going to female barristers.

Overall, the 2019-2020 reporting period found that of the 32,995 total briefs, 31%  (10,291) of these briefs went to female barristers and 69% (22,704) went to male barristers. This has exceeded the final target of the Policy by one percentage point and represents an increase of four percentage points from the previous reporting year.

“Female junior barristers were briefed at an even higher rate, receiving 37 per cent of briefs,” said Mr Liveris, Law Council of Australia President.

Read the full story here.

Research shows a majority of solicitors in New South Wales hope changes to legal practice will remain in place

Research commissioned by the Law Society of New South Wales in Australia shows a majority of solicitors hope changes to legal practice brought about by COVID-19 remain in place. Respondents note that the move to remote delivery of legal services has brought a net benefit with the vast majority of solicitors in NSW hoping to keep them in some guise. Only 22% of the 1500 surveyed believed measures brought in to combat COVID-19 had had a net negative affect on their practice.

Across processes, particular benefits of the changes have included indisputable time efficiencies for all parties, cost savings and benefits for accessibility/flexibility due to the reduction or elimination of travel and access to justice.

Read the full story here.

Victorian warning on lawyers involvement in crowdfunding activities

Lawyers in the state of Victoria have been warned about their public conduct. Fiona McLeay’s December 2021 report sets out the importance of balance between access to justice and acting in a client’s best interests.

The report reminds lawyers to think carefully before advising communities to pursue cases which will likely not be successful in court or are not in the pursuant best interests. Crowdfunding got a special mention, noting it can improve access to justice by bridging the funding gap but must be balanced against what is in the best interests of those receiving the funding. Especially if the crowdfunding is being run by the client’s lawyer.

Read more here.

Technology-based legal document generation services and the regulation of legal practice in Australia

This article examines, in the Australian context, the status of technology-based legal document generation services provided directly to the public, where the service provider is not a lawyer or law practice. A brief overview of how legal practice is regulated, what legal practice is and who can engage in it under Australian law is provided to consider the circumstances where this type of service may amount to the unauthorised practice of law. Keywords Unauthorised practice of law, unauthorized practice of law, legal document providers.

Read the full article here.

The Victorian Legal Services Board in Australia has issued new guidelines for dealing with sexual harassment

The Victorian Legal Services Board has published new resources on its website for people who experience of witness sexual harassment in the Victorian legal sector. These resources contain practical guidance about what individuals can do at the time and in the aftermath of experiencing or witnessing sexual harassment.

These guidelines are being put in place to assist people who need them and are key elements of the boards regulatory strategy to build knowledge, skills and leadership in the legal sector.

Read the full article here.

Current State of Automated Legal Advice Tools

This paper is the first from the Regulating Automated Legal Advice Technologies (RALAT) project
supported by the University of Melbourne’s Networked Society Institute.

The project focuses on a cutting-edge development in legal technology: the automation of legal advice.
It seeks to understand the practice settings in which Automated Legal Advice Tools (ALATs) are being
adopted, issues regarding their effective management. It also explores the legal, regulatory, and ethical
risks and consequences, and how these will shape access to delivery of legal services.

Discussion Paper co-authored with Judith Bennett, Tim Miller, Rachelle Bosua, Adam Lodders (Melbourne) and Scott Chamberlain (ANU

Read the full paper here

Law Council of Australia releases webinar on frontline legal services in times of crisis

The Law Council of Australia has released a webinar looking at legal regulation in times of crisis, and how regulators can respond to external crises in the most effective and empathetic manner. The webinar draws on the experience of Australian regulators who have been through this years bushfires as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and looks at their responses  and achievements over the period.

Panellist included Ms Rowan McRae (Executive Director Civil Justice, Access and Equity, Victoria Legal Aid), Mr Nassim Arrage, CEO (CLCs Australia) and Mr David Woodroffe, (Principal Legal Officer, NAAJA). The session was moderated by Law Council President, Dr Jacoba Brasch QC.

Watch the webinar here. 

Australia, Ireland, Scotland and England and Wales Bar publish new diversity and admissions data

New reports on admissions and diversity in the legal profession have been released by the Australian Conference of Law Societies, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority of Ireland (LSRA), the Law Society of Scotland and the Bar Standards Board of England and Wales.

Australia

The 2020 National Profile of Solicitors in Australia, produced on behalf of the Conference of Law Societies, an organisation that represents the different law societies from across the Australian territories, show that there are now 83,643 solicitors practising in Australia, an increase of 26,066 solicitors since 2011, representing a 45% increase. The report also shows that women now make up 53% of solicitors across the country, up from 46% in 2011.

The report has also found that there has been a 59% increase in practice in those aged 65 or older, with the average age being 42 years old, and that in  2020, 632 solicitors identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait islander, representing 0.8% of all solicitors in Australia. Since 2014, this trend has remained relatively stable. The report also shows that the majority of solicitors operate in private practice, however corporate legal has been the most rapidly growing area.

Access the Australian report here. 

Ireland 

On the 30th of June, the LSRA published its second annual admissions report entitled ‘Pathways to the Professions 2020: Annual Report on Admission Policies of the Legal Professions’.

The key findings of the report include:

  • 906 solicitors were admitted to the Roll of Solicitors in 2020, a 62% decrease on 2019
  • The “Brexit-effect” whereby UK qualified lawyers qualify into Ireland has begun to subside. The number of England and Wales-qualified solicitors entering the Roll, has dropped to 443 compared to 1,838 in 2019 (this may partly be due to saturation and partly due to changes to the admission policy requiring England and Wales qualified solicitors to demonstrate an intention to practice in Ireland)
  • A total of 11,854 solicitors held Irish practising certificates on 31 December 2020, a decrease of 105 from 2019
  • A total of 167 barristers were called to the Bar of Ireland in 2020, this is down 14% from 190 in 2019.
  • Of the 167 barristers admitted to practise in the year, 116 were graduates of the King’s Inns Barrister-at-Law degree course. The total also includes 47 barristers admitted having obtained their professional qualifications in England and Wales or Northern Ireland.

Access the LSRA’s report here. 

Scotland

Diversity data collected as part of the annual Practising Certificate (PC) renewal process has been published by the Law Society of Scotland. Diversity questions were included for the first time in the 2020/21 PC renewal process, with around 80% of respondents providing a response to diversity questions. Respondents were asked about their ethnicity, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and social background, including the type of school they mainly attended and what their parents’ occupation was.

Key findings include:

  • The Scottish legal profession is getting more ethnically diverse, although more slowly than the wider population. Just over 88% of the profession is white, with at least 3.38% of the profession coming from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background.
  • Almost 7% of solicitors aged under 30 come from a BAME background.
  • Around two-thirds of newly admitted members were female.
  • 3.2% of the profession is LGBTQ+.
  • 4.8% of the profession has a disability, such as blindness, deafness or a mobility impairment.

Access the Law Society of  Scotland’s report here. 

Barristers in England and Wales

The BSB has published the seventh and final annual edition of its statistical information relating to student performance on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). The report uses data from students from the 2019-2020 academic year, as well as the preceding two academic years. The report includes information on the demographics and results of those who enrolled on the BPTC, as well as the success rates of those seeking a pupillage after the course.

Key findings include:

  • 18% fewer of the students who enrolled in 2019-20 completed the course compared to the year before and the of the UK  and EU graduates in the same period 10% began a pupillage in 2020-21 compared to 23% in the 2018-19 cohort, reflecting a 35% fall in pupillage places. This drop may be partially related to COVID-19 as well as Brexit.
  • 1,685 students enrolled on the BPTC in 2019-20, a decrease of 68 students compared to 2018-19.
  • 46% of students 46% who enrolled on the BPTC in 2019-20 were overseas (non-UK/EU) domiciled,
  • Female BPTC students increased from 52.3% in 2011-12 to 57.8% in 2019-20
  • of the 95% who provided information on their ethnicity, the percentage of UK/EU domiciled students from a minority ethnic group was 35% in 2019-20. This was down by around five percentage points compared to 2018-19,  and was at the lowest level since 2015-16;

As well as this the report found that  39.5% of UK/EU students who enrolled on the course from 2015 to 2019 had started a pupillage by March 2021 of these 55% were female, and when controlling for academic and BPTC results found that those from a white background were more likely to commence a pupillage, with 41% of white students starting a pupillage compared with 23% of those from a minority background.

Read the BSB’s full report here. 

Victoria Legal Services Board recommends significant changes to CPD

On the 25th November, the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner (VLSB) released the findings of an independent review into Continuing Professional Development (CPD) in Victoria. The review was conducted by independent consultant Chris Humphreys and involved interviews with over 170 organisation and individuals about how the system in Victoria could be improved, enabling the legal profession to have meaningful, relevant and accessible learning opportunities that enrich the quality of legal services provided to the Victorian community.

The review concluded that while the CPD system is not broken, it needs improvement to reflect more contemporary approaches to adult learning and professional development. Saying “The reverence for knowledge espoused, and genuinely felt, by many in the profession focuses on the acquisition of knowledge about the content of the law. While this focus is valuable, it is insufficient to equip a lawyer with the skills needed to apply the law, to conduct a business, to advise clients or employers, to make difficult ethical choices. Comprehensive learning is not embraced as an integral part of a practice in which a lawyer reflects systematically on their strengths and weaknesses and how to become a more effective lawyer”

A key recommendation of the report was the development of a competency framework for lawyers, which gives greater weight to skills needed for contemporary legal practice and to shift the focus of activity from compliance to genuine learning and development.

The report, ‘Getting the Point? Review of Continuing Professional Development for Victorian Lawyers’ provides 28 recommendations for change, including:

  • Development of a competency framework that describes the core skills for practising lawyers, differentiated by levels of experience and expertise
  • Production of resources for lawyers that provide information, guidance and templates about CPD activities, including reflective practise and planning
  • Working with the Law Institute, Victorian Bar and CPD providers to identify ways in which more effective, customised activities can be designed and delivered
  • Raising the profile and strengthening the resources available for CPD in key areas such as technology and the law, sexual harassment, family violence, diversity and inclusion, and health and wellbeing
  • Improving the approach to CPD Ethics programs
  • Developing a more active approach to identifying risk and linking CPD programs to identified risks
  • Using the CPD audit process to gather better information about risk and lawyers’ use of CPD
  • Establishing a CPD Steering Committee with representatives from the Law Institute, Victorian Bar, lawyers not in private practice, and academic or other experts to implement the review’s recommendations, in consultation with other stakeholders
  • Strengthening and re-orienting the profession’s culture of learning through leadership and communication of the new approaches.

There are also some recommendations aimed at clarifying and broadening the CPD topics and options available for those lawyers working in the corporate, government and community sector.

Fiona McLeay, Legal Services Board CEO and Commissioner said: “We are grateful to Chris for the high levels of engagement generated and fostered with our stakeholders and the legal profession and for the considered and thoughtful manner in which the review was conducted. We thank everyone who contributed to the review and took the time to share their experiences and views, and to engage in the conversation. We will now review the recommendations and develop a regulatory response for discussion in early 2021” Ms McLeay said.

See the VLSB’s statement, or read the full report

Law Council of Australia publishes webinar on implementing the ALRC’s pathways to justice roadmap

The Law Council of Australia has published a recording of its latest online webinar, entitled “Closing the Justice Gap: Implementing the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Pathways to Justice Roadmap”. Over the course of the event, the panel discussed a number of issues around access to justice, and the justice gap, including discussion around access to justice in indigenous communities. The panel was made up of Dr Hannah McGlade, Ms Cheryl Axleby, Dr Tracey McIntosh and Mr Tony McAvoy SC., with  Law Council President, Pauline Wright, moderating the discussion.

Watch the full recording of the webinar.