Australian lawyers overseas will the trend continue?

by Azadeh Khalilizadeh

Australian legal services are in high demand in the international market. But the recently elected Rudd Government has been quiet on future initiatives to keep the overseas paths open for Australian lawyers.

In September 2007, the first survey was undertaken on international legal services, which indicated $543.3 million in export and cross-border activity for the previous two years.

The survey was an initiative of the International Legal Services Advisory Council (ILSAC) and was undertaken by FRMC legal with the assistance of the former Federal Attorney-General’s Department.

According to a media statement released by former Federal Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock, Australian lawyers are in demand all around the world, with Australian law firms increasing in the Asia-Pacific region.

The report showed:
  • United States and Canada were Australia’s most important markets accounting for $134.2 million and 25 per cent of total international activity; followed by
  • United Kingdom (16 per cent);China and Hong Kong (14 per cent); and
  • Europe (13 per cent).
The past year also revealed a major push towards Australia’s place in the international market, with initiatives such as:
  • The release of a booklet Managing Cross-Border Disputes to inform businesses in the Asia-Pacific on the benefits of arbitration/an or mediation
  • Australian law firm Allens Arthur Robinson signed the first joint law venture with Singapore firm TSMP Law Corporation, under the Singapore - Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA).
  • The Australia-China Legal Profession Development pilot program commenced, with the arrival of 10 Chinese lawyers and government officials in Australia.
  • Australian representatives travelled to the United States to discuss initiatives with the Conference of Chief Justices for improved access of Australian lawyers in the US.
  • A decision by the Delaware Supreme Court in October 2007 allowed Australian lawyers to practise Australian and foreign law in its jurisdiction for the first time.
According to Ian Govey, General Manager of Civil Justice and Legal Services in a welcome address at a 2003 ILSAC conference, buying and selling legal services into Asia continues to grow in importance in our increasingly borderless world.

“If we are to continue to develop as a prosperous and forward-looking nation, we must pursue the trade opportunities that exist in the region.”

According to Mr Govey, the challenge for the Australian Government ahead is twofold:
  • The establishment of an international environment that facilitates legal services trade; and
  • The establishment of domestic regulatory environment which encourages the legal sector to be dynamic, innovative and internationally competitive.
But Mr Govey also highlighted the legal profession needs to be open to export opportunities.

“It must identify export markets and it must develop the right strategies, partnerships and strategic alliances that will allow it to successfully penetrate foreign markets,” he said. “To provide a firm foundation for international competitiveness, the profession must also commit itself to greater efficiencies through reform of the domestic operating environment.”

The recently elected Rudd Labor Government has yet to announcement further initiatives for Australian lawyers overseas.


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