The Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) was the first jurisdiction to fully deregulate law firm structure and allow alternative business structures. At the same time it required that incorporated legal practices implement ‘appropriate management systems’ for ensuring compliance with professional ethical obligations.

This paper presents a preliminary empirical evaluation of the impact of this attempt at ‘management-based regulation’. We find that the NSW requirement that firms self-assess their ethics management leads to a large and statistically significant drop in complaints. The (self-assessed) level of implementation of ethics management infrastructure, however, does not make any difference. The relevance of these findings to debates about deprofessionalization, managerialism, and commercialism in the legal profession is discussed, and the NSW approach is distinguished from the more heavy-handed English legal aid approach to regulating law firm quality management.

Parker, Christine and Gordon, Tahlia Ruth and Mark, Steve A., Regulating Law Firm Ethics Management: An Empirical Assessment of an Innovation in Regulation of the Legal Profession in New South Wales. Journal of Law and Society, Vol. 37, Issue 3, pp. 466-500, September 2010. Read article on SSRN.