Strengthening the ‘legal culture’ of an increasingly fragmented legal profession will be the focus of Australia’s newest ‘learned academy’, with today’s launch of the Australian Academy of Law (AAL) in Brisbane.
In its landmark report on the civil justice system, Managing Justice (2000), the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) highlighted the problems associated with the lack of cohesion and direction in the legal profession, and recommended the establishment of the AAL.
ALRC President Prof David Weisbrot—a Foundation Fellow of the AAL—said Managing Justice made it clear that ethics, education and accountability play a critical role in shaping the Australian legal culture, which in turn determines how well the legal system operates in the public interest.
“The Australian legal profession has changed dramatically over the past three decades. The profession is now subject to competition and consumer laws; incorporation and multidisciplinary partnerships are now permitted; legal practice has gone national—and, indeed, globalisation is a real feature of practice for the ‘mega-firms’, which did not even exist until the late 1970s,” he said.
“We have asked lawyers to be ‘more businesslike’ and they have responded accordingly. But this puts tremendous pressure on the ‘service ideal’ that traditionally distinguished ‘professions’ from businesses. We now desperately need to rethink and rearticulate the core ethics and principles that bind lawyers together.
“I don’t think that it’s overly dramatic to say that we need to fight for the soul of the profession.”
The AAL will bring together the leading thinkers in the various branches of the profession, including senior judges, practitioners and academics, to consider issues of legal scholarship, education and training, and national ethical and practice standards.
“The desperate need for the Academy of Law can perhaps best be seen in the strong endorsements received from eminent members of the legal profession,” Prof Weisbrot said.
He said the Chief Justice of the High Court, the Hon Murray Gleeson, is the Patron of the new AAL, and strong support for its establishment has been offered by the Council of Australian Law Deans; state and territory chief justices; law societies and bar associations; and law reformers.