New trade deals herald closer UK links for Australian and New Zealand lawyers

Free trade agreements will reduce barriers for lawyers to practice across each jurisdiction

Requalifying in Australia was previously a notoriously complicated process for UK lawyers Shutterstock

New free trade agreements between the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand have been ratified, paving the way for greater access to lawyers from the UK’s three common-law jurisdictions.

The new deals also allow UK lawyers to practise in crucial legal centres such as Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland and Wellington.

Law Society of England & Wales president, Lubna Shuja, said the ratifications were a positive development: “Both agreements lock in the existing right for UK lawyers to advise clients on home-country law and to provide arbitration, mediation and conciliation services in the other jurisdiction using their home-country qualifications and title.”

Luke Murphy, the president of the Law Council of Australia, said: “Having engaged with [the Australian government] throughout the negotiation of the agreement on provisions relating to trade in professional services and professional mobility, the Law Council is delighted to see the agreement finally enter into force.”

He added: “The skills and expertise of experienced Australian and UK legal practitioners will be essential to realising the economic opportunities of the agreement for both Australian and UK businesses and professional services providers.”

Both bodies singled out the establishment of a Legal Services Regulatory Dialogue composed of representatives from each country, including their respective law societies, civil servants and regulators.

“The Dialogue will provide an important opportunity to consider contemporary approaches to enhance legal services trade and professional mobility of lawyers, which is presently hindered by limited recognition of professional qualifications and complex and time-consuming requirements for requalification,” Murphy said.

Shuja agreed greater recognition of qualifications for law firms working in Australia would address some of the barriers that UK lawyers and law firms faced.

Former London solicitors now working in Sydney said that requalification is a notoriously complicated process across Australia’s various states and territories, hindering intra-office secondments, partner hires and transfers, even as the number of Anglo-Australian firms has grown, such as Herbert Smith Freehills and Ashurst.

The Dialogue will also consider alternative business structures in Australia and the UK, such as limited liability partnerships. The first meeting is expected to take place before the end of the year.

Shuja said: “The Dialogue is the first of its kind established under an FTA. Depending on its outcomes, we hope this can serve as a useful model to be replicated in other subsequent trade agreements.”

A similar agreement was concluded with New Zealand, which has a fused legal profession. Shuja said she hoped that ‘behind the border’ barriers to trade would be addressed via further cooperation.

She concluded: “Both of these deals strengthen existing bilateral relations and deepen market access, making it easier for professionals such as lawyers to operate in each other’s economies.”

Karen Davies, Ashurst’s global chair, said: “As a global law firm with a significant Australian presence as well as key clients and our people there, we welcome the news of the ratification of the UK trade deals with Australia and New Zealand. We are pleased with the outcome, and it is undoubtedly a positive development for the legal profession.”

Email your news and story ideas to: