Lawyers in Conflict: Australian Legal Profession, Legal Aid and Access to Justice
Posted: 17 Jun 2001
Currently, one of the strongest defenders and advocates of the Australian legal aid system is the Law Council of Australia, the peak body of the private legal profession. This has not always been the case. In 1974 private legal practitioners were so concerned about the idea of salaried legal aid lawyers and loosing control of the legal aid system, that they mounted a High Court challenge against the then recently established Australian Legal Aid Office.
During the period under review (1972 to 1999), the private legal profession has gone from staunch opponents to a national legal aid system to being the ardent critic of recent retractions of legal aid services. The threat of increasing competition, the challenge to professionalism and the legitimation of the 'legal aid' service sector are all contributing factors to this shift. New areas of specialisation, new client groups and models of practice, an expanded reshaped legal education and the feminisation and diversification of the social base of the profession have meant a more heterogenous profession. Conflict within the legal profession over legal aid policy and practice reflects much of the pattern of this change.
Within the context of the history of the Australian legal aid system, this paper explores and illustrates how the rise of the 'legal aid services sector' has impacted on new forms of relations between the legal profession and the State; new understandings of what 'lawyering' and 'professionalism' comprises for most practitioners; and the changing focus of access to justice discourse.
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