Law Society NT developments - important update to the legal profession
For a number of years now, the Law Society Northern Territory (like many other organisations) has been subject to the pressure of continuing to undertake its operations in a tightening fiscal environment. These issues, which have been reported in its Annual Reports over recent years, have resulted in a gradual but steady reduction in resources available to the Society to undertake its work including both its regulatory functions and providing member services.
The primary source of funding for the Society’s operations each year is through an annual grant of funds from the Legal Profession Fidelity Fund (LPFF). Under the Legal Profession Act 2006 the LPFF has a number of purposes including:
- To cover compensation payments arising from trust defaults of law practices in the Northern Territory.
- To fund the operating costs of a number of bodies established under the Legal Profession Act 2006 including the Society. These additional bodies include the Legal Practitioners Admission Board, the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal and the Funds Management Committee.
- To contribute annually to the funding of the important work of the community legal centres throughout the Northern Territory.
The LPFF is managed by the Funds Management Committee (also established under the Legal Profession Act 2006) which is charged with ensuring that the LPFF is managed in a way that ensures that the fund can meet its various financial responsibilities without the need to impose additional levies upon the profession and to ensure the longevity of the fund. The LPFF receives contributions each year primarily from the local profession through payments to the fund for practising certificate fees and annual contribution payments. The fund also receives income from its managed investments. The Society does not receive these payments directly and payments are made directly to the LPFF.
The Society does not charge a separate fee for practitioners to be a member of the Society with membership included upon payment of the practising certificate fee.
The LPFF is therefore finite with numerous competing statutory obligations and claimants and results in the Funds Management Committee carefully scrutinising the Society’s annual funding submissions. Over recent years, this has meant that the Society has had to continually review its operations and resources to ensure it can operate within its financial envelope. This process is not new and has been ongoing for many years resulting in a number of staffing and operational changes at the Society in recent years including changing premises.
Due to a review of and re-focus on regulatory matters generally over the past 18 months, this year’s budgetary considerations have required the Society to make some very difficult decisions which will impact on a number of areas of the Society’s operations moving forward. The Society’s Council deliberative processes in relation to this year’s budget were extensive and thorough over many months.
The Society’s regulatory functions are set out in the Legal Profession Act 2006. The Act requires the Society to perform these functions in a timely manner and to an appropriate standard. These factors have resulted in the need, and provision of, increased regulatory resources at the Society which the Society’s Council believes will benefit both legal practitioners and consumers.
The changes to the Society’s operations are set out below and take place with immediate effect.
The Society will no longer be offering continuing professional development (CPD) sessions as part of a formal Society program. For many years the attendance at the Society’s CPDs has been diminishing and the Society has not been able, for some time, to recoup its costs of running the program. This has resulted in the Society implementing changes over recent years to the manner in which the program has been operated to seek to reduce its operational costs.
This, and the increasing pressure to reduce operational costs generally, has resulted in the difficult decision made by the Society’s Council to reduce staffing numbers which has resulted in there being no internal resources to support the organising and hosting of a CPD program.
The Society acknowledges that the obligation on practitioners to accrue CPD points will continue through the requirements in the Legal Profession Act 2006 and the Legal Profession Regulations 2007. However, for many years, the Society has been aware that many practitioners have met their statutory obligation through attending CPD programs not run by the Society and this has impacted on the viability of the Society’s CPD’s program.
Given the staffing reductions at the Society, it will now only be able to hold the Opening of the Legal Year events in both Alice Springs and Darwin. The continuance of these two events is a reflection of the Council’s recognition of the importance of these events to the legal profession generally. Regrettably, Law Week will no longer be held.
PRO BONO CLEARING HOUSE
The Society will cease to operate the Pro Bono Clearing House service.
Balance will no longer be published although the Society but we will continue publishing The Practitioner every fortnight. The move away last year from publishing Balance as a hard-copy publication to an online publication, is another example of the changes the Society has made over the years to seek to reduce the its operating costs.
The Council acknowledges that at the time Balance was first published it was the most effective communication tool available to the Society and was an important conduit to the profession. However, given it is a quarterly publication (and with the continued publication of The Practitioner) this is no longer the case. To commemorate the cessation of Balance, one special final edition will be published over coming months.
The Society currently has 12 voluntary committees in addition to Council with a number of these being of an executive or regulatory nature and the balance being non-regulatory in nature and based upon specific interest sections of the legal profession. All of the committees play an important role in the functioning of the Society and are a reflection of the Society’s long-standing volunteer history.
The Society’s budgetary constraints have meant that there will be changes to how the non-regulatory committee’s functions are supported by the Society. In particular, the staff of the Society will no longer be in a position to provide the current full suite of services in support of these committees which means that these committees will move to a self-sufficient voluntary structure model with no Society resource attending meetings or to assist with formulating agendas or taking minutes. The Council hopes that the keen volunteering spirit of the profession, and its members, means that these committees will continue to undertake important work in policy formulation, consistent with the history of the Society.
These committees will still be able to access certain administrative functions such as utilising the Society’s meeting room and associated facilities, requesting assistance to send out calendar invitations and to electronically upload meeting papers/documents to the Society’s file sharing service. The final detail as to how this will work in practice is still being finalised and information will be provided and shared with the Society’s committees.
The Society is currently advertising for a permanent part-time Senior Policy Lawyer who will be available to assist these committees on a needs basis but who will not have a formal role in any of the committees. This is to ensure that Northern Territory legal policy issues can continue to be advocated across all specific interest areas as and where required. The committees affected by these changes are:
- Legal Education Committee;
- Family Law Committee;
- Commercial Law Committee;
- Social Justice Committee; and
- Legal Practice Committee.
The Council of the Society is acutely aware of the impact of these changes on the long standing operations and services of the Society and has not made these changes without good reason and much deliberation. At the end of the day, given the financial considerations, the Council was left with little alternative.