Lawyers first took up residence in Canberra in the late 1920s, and in 1933, with the economy recovering from the great depression, a handful of Canberra lawyers formed the “Law Society of the Territory for the Seat of Government”.
The first solicitor to commence practice in Canberra (that is, from an office in the Territory), was Eric K Hart of Melbourne firm HE Elliott. He was resident at the Hotel Canberra in November 1926.
In 1940 the name was changed to the “Law Society of the Australian Capital Territory”. After a slow beginning, the post-World War II years were a period of expansion, especially in the 1960s with the accelerated relocation of the Commonwealth public service to Canberra.
There were only three women practising law in Canberra by 1965: Margaret Reid, Caroline Emerson (MacPhillamy’s) and Adrienne O’Connor (Davies Bailey & Cater).
With the growth of the population, and consequently the profession, came the need for a modern regulatory system similar to the surrounding State of New South Wales. In 1970 the Commonwealth Government passed the ACT Legal Practitioners Ordinance, which since self-government, was called the Legal Practitioners Act. The Act gave the Society general powers to regulate the Territory's legal profession.
In June 2006, the Legal Practitioners Act 1970 was replaced by the Legal Profession Act 2006 and Regulations. The Legal Profession Act is based on a national Model Law that aims to standardise the regulation of the Australian legal profession.
The Society continues to regulate the Territory's solicitors. These powers are exercised in consultation with, or with the approval of, the ACT Attorney-General.
Book available for purchase
More information on the Society's history can be found in Ethos and Ethics: A History of the Law Society of the Australian Capital Territory, 1933-1993, by Susan Mary Woolcock Withycombe. Copies of Ethos and Ethics are available for purchase from the Law Society.