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Deregulation bedevils the legal profession

DEREGULATION looms as a major threat to the legal profession, says Law Society of WA president John Ley.

Mr Ley said the Federal Government was moving to allow non-lawyers to compete with lawyers through the National Competition Policy.

“This already happens to an extent in corporate law,” Mr Ley said. “Some accountants and merchant bankers are as experienced in the law as corporate lawyers.

“But when it comes to giving legal advice, accountants and bankers are not theoretically qualified to do so.

“One shouldn’t abandon all in the quest for competition if the people delivering a service to the public are not qualified or competent to do so.”

Insolvency is another area where the lines are blurred between professions. The Insolvency Practitioners Association of Australia has lawyers and accountants among its members.

“Often with insolvency there is some court action involved,” Mr Ley said.

He said mergers and takeovers had been a large area of practice for many firms, especially during the 1980s.

“A lot of big firms had merger and takeover departments or a number of partners that practised in the area,” he said.

“They included firms such as Freehill Hollingdale and Page, Blake Dawson Waldron and Clayton Utz. There is also a lot of overlapping in that area.

“If there is a takeover it has to be financed, bringing in banking lawyers. But the market is much smaller than in the eastern states.”

Mr Ley said courts were increasingly turning to mediation rather than litigation to solve problems.

“Mediation has always been in the system informally. Now it’s been formalised,” he said. “Until about twenty years ago mediation was something only lawyers did.”

“It is now something being taken up by the courts,” Mr Ley said.

“They will refer cases before them to mediation before the case goes to trial – if both parties agree.”

As a barrister, Mr Ley deals in civil and commercial law, covering all bar criminal and matrimonial cases.

He said it was a “bit of a risk” leaving Freehill Hollingdale and Page about three years ago to take an office in Francis Burt Chambers. Mr Ley had been with Freehills for seventeen years, working in the commercial litigation area.

“When you are a barrister you rely on the profession to brief you on work. Clients are referred to you by solicitors,” he said. “In a big firm, if you are not doing well you have a lot of people to support you.

“But when you are on the bar you have a much more general practice.”

Mr Ley said the bar in WA was a voluntary one, started by Sir Francis Burt who started his own practice in 1961. He said WA’s system differed from that of Sydney and England.

“In England and Sydney there is a division between barristers and solicitors.

“A solicitor is not allowed to advocate in court. Only barristers can do that. In WA all lawyers are admitted as both barristers and solicitors,” he said.

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