WESTERN Australian law firms will have the option of converting from a partnership to a company structure following passage of State Government legislation.
The Law Society welcomed the passage last week of the Legal Practice Bill, which will allow the profession to modernise its commercial structure.
It allows lawyers to choose between the usual sole practice and lawyer partnerships, or incorporated legal practices or multidisciplinary partnerships.
The Law Society says the changes will benefit both practitioners and consumers, providing lawyers with more freedom as service providers, and clients with alternative avenues to obtain legal services and other types of advice.
For instance, lawyers, accountants, financial planners and other professionals could establish a jointly owned “multidisciplinary partnership” to provide a range of services.
Previous legislation restricted lawyers to only work in partnership with other lawyers.
Ultimately, the changes may make possible public investment in incorporated law firms, opening up new financing options.
Other possible benefits including limiting the liability of directors, facilitating the transfer of interests in the business and ensuring its continuity.
Attorney-General Jim McGinty said the new legislation would ensure stringent safeguards for consumers.
Lawyers still will be answerable to the Legal Practice Board in respect of the provision of legal services.
The legislation introduces a national practising certificate that will allow practitioners from around Australia to be recognised automatically in Western Australia, and vice versa.
Previously WA and Queensland were the only States not offering these certificates.
The legislation strengthens the regime to supervise interstate practitioners who set up an office in WA.
It also requires foreign lawyers practising the law of another country in WA for the first time to be registered locally and be subject to the same standards, controls, disciplinary arrangements and professional indemnity insurance requirements as local lawyers.
The powers of the regulatory authorities to suspend, place conditions on or refuse to grant or renew a practising certificate to recalcitrant lawyers has been strengthened.
Completion of five-year articles as an entry path to the profession has been removed.
Under this system, a person who had failed to obtain a place at a university law school could become a lawyer through being an articled clerk for five years.
From now, all prospective lawyers will have to obtain a law degree to qualify for admission.
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