The Society’s role in the ACT community is to represent, advance, and defend the interests of an independent legal profession in the ACT.
We also exist to protect the public interest in the ACT system of justice through the efficient regulation of the profession, in accordance with the Legal Profession Act and the Solicitors Conduct Rules.
The Society lobbies for ‘good law’ in the ACT region, and seeks to reduce costs and improve conditions for our members. We are also responsible for the maintenance of professional standards in the ACT, and are guardians of the local profession’s public image and reputation.
Lobbying and consultation
The Society’s principal purpose is to represent its members. This means lobbying and consultation to protect members’ interests and to defend the reputation of the legal profession in the ACT.
With the help of our committees, which provide the Society with added submission-writing capacity, we have been able to influence government and other sectors in the interests of our members and their clients.
Much of our representational effort is put into ensuring that potential problems are identified at an early stage and resolved before they can have an adverse effect. In some instances we must actively rebut suboptimal policy options being considered in the government and other sectors the profession deals with.
Regulating the profession
The Legal Profession Act 2006 requires the Society to regulate for the benefit of the consumers of legal services. This regulatory service includes maintaining professional standards, protecting client and public monies, handling complaints about professional conduct, and prosecuting disciplinary matters.
Other statutory services provided by the Society to the community include providing a register of law firms and practitioners, and administering grants to community legal services.
Lobbying for good law
Unlike other industry and professional associations the Law Society does not focus its efforts on issues that are simply in the professional and commercial interests of its members.
We scrutinise most legislation, sometimes at the invitation of government, and lobby for “good law”. It is always our aim that legislation should fairly balance the principal forces in society and where possible looks after minor interests.
We also strive to ensure that the Territory’s laws are simple to understand and easy to comply with.
We do this in the interests of the community in general and of course our members who, in the end, must explain those laws to their clients.
A first port of call
The Society is generally the first port of call for anybody who believes they have a legal problem or who just seeks reassurance about the legal process. It is perhaps not surprising that in a jurisdiction as sophisticated as Canberra (which includes Queanbeyan, Yass and Bungendore) that the Society receives some 9,000 telephone calls from the public each year.
Legal Advice Bureau
The Law Society’s Legal Advice Bureau, or LAB, has been in operation since 1972. The LAB offers 15 minutes of free legal advice to members of the public. It is staffed by volunteers — more than 100 Law Society members who give up their lunch break once a month. People come to the LAB because they aren’t sure about how to move forward with a legal issue, or even if they have a legal issue.
LAB volunteers see more than a thousand clients every year, and give advice on issues such as family law, criminal law, debt, personal injury, tenancy issues, motor vehicle accidents, employment law, workers compensation, migration law, and contract law. The volunteer work at the LAB represents around 250 hours a year.
Pro Bono Clearing House
The Law Society also provides legal assistance through the Pro Bono Clearing House (PBCH) to disadvantaged people who are otherwise unable to secure a lawyer. The Clearing House is a ‘last resort’ for legal help after all other avenues for assistance have been exhausted.
The Clearing House accepts applications in two types of matters: ‘public interest’ law matters that affect a significant number of people or that raise a matter of broad public concern; and ‘private interest’ law matters that have a reasonable prospect of success.
A panel of volunteers examines applications for pro bono legal assistance, and refers those applications that meet the eligibility criteria on to a network of about 20 law firms who have agreed to accept referrals on a low cost or pro bono basis.