The UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Negotiations: What do they mean and can I now pursue a legal career in Australia?
In the middle of June, it was announced that UK lawyers will soon be able to practise in Australia without having to re-qualify. The announcement came direct from the UK government and followed news of a broader post-Brexit trade agreement with Australia.
What does this announcement mean for lawyers and law students considering a switch in their career? What exactly is changing, and does this make a career move to Australia a more viable prospect for some people than before?
Currently, a UK lawyer who wishes to move to Australia and re-qualify in practice must go through a multi-step process that is managed by the state in which they are moving to. The rules vary from state to state but, in the wide majority of cases, the individual is required to take on additional legal studies at an Australian University or with a provider of certificates for Australian legal practice. Until the extra qualification has been obtained, the individual will need to work under the supervision of a fully-qualified Australian legal practitioner.
Prior to additional qualifications being pursued, the individual must also be subjected to an assessment of their current qualifications. This assessment incurs a cost which must be paid by the individual in the absence of any sponsorship, and this cost is usually a few hundred Australian dollars. By comparison, an Australian lawyer who wishes to come and work in the UK need only undertake a single test in order to dual-qualify in England and Wales.
The more onerous requirements placed on UK lawyers who wish to dual qualify in Australia often deters foreign lawyers from venturing into the Australian market, and the proposed changes are designed, in part, to address this. For any newly-qualified lawyer or law student considering a move to Australia in the near future, this is all no doubt good news and has a chance of drastically reducing the amount of money, time and effort required to do so - all important considerations for somebody making this kind of life decision.
The news does, however, need to be taken with a small pinch of salt, and any individual should proceed with caution. The UK’s Law Society has raised concerns that there are still a number of ‘practical barriers’ around the recognition of qualifications. It argues that, even if the proposal was to go through as it is, a number of other issues will still hinder cross-border practice, increasing costs for clients and limiting international opportunities for local lawyers, and many of these barriers are ‘behind the border’ meaning they are not addressed in international trade agreements.
In light of this, lawyers and law students considering relocating should hold off on making concrete plans until the situation is clearer and everything has been set in stone. The plans are all part of an in-principle agreement that is liable to change, for example there is currently no specific information of likely timings on when we can expect this to come into force. It would be wise to wait for more information on how potential changes pan out before booking plane tickets!
That is not to take away from what a positive development this is. Many of our ‘Varios’ have worked remotely and undertaken international work from countries like Australia for years. For contract lawyers like Varios, these proposed changes bring even more flexibility and opportunities enabling them to pick up more work from regions and markets across Australia.
To anybody interested in this, we recommend keeping a close eye on how the debate progresses and whether anything becomes final. I have no doubt there will be more news to come in the weeks to follow.
As soon as that happens, you should be able to start planning your next career move.