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Back to research & insights Published by Alex Gotch - 2 years ago

What is Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement?

What is the Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement?

The Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement (“the FTA”), signed virtually on 17 December 2021, is the most comprehensive and ambitious free trade agreement that Australia has concluded, other than with New Zealand. The Federal Government of Australia is now working to bring the FTA in to force in 2022, expected to take effect from mid-year.

What is the impact for Australian and UK lawyers?

The main talking point of the FTA has been the proposed mutual recognition of Australian and UK lawyers’ training and education in each jurisdiction.

Australia and the UK’s legal professions enjoy a close relationship. Despite this close relationship both countries retain barriers to practice for solicitors moving between the two jurisdictions.

Mutual recognition would be a significant step forward in addressing cross-border practice barriers that exist between the two countries and allowing ease of movement for UK and Australian lawyers looking to relocate between the two jurisdictions for work opportunities.

What is the current admission process for UK lawyers into Australia?

In Australia the present regulatory framework is not one of mutual recognition, or even equal treatment.

Foreign lawyers seeking admission into the Australian legal profession are assessed by the State authority in which they seek admission. The State authority will look at academic qualifications, training and experience of foreign lawyers “to determine the extent to which they are substantially equivalent to the prescribed Australian requirements, and advise the foreign lawyer of additional academic study … [and] practical legal training that must be undertaken.”[1]

For lawyers from England and Wales, the applicant will most likely be required to undertake additional academic study in four to six subjects, including Federal and State Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, and Ethics and Professional Responsibility.

For years we’ve heard from lawyers we’re representing and our law firm clients that this process is overly onerous. The admission process as it currently stands discourages UK lawyers from seeking to work in Australia and creates difficulties for Australian law practices in meeting their resourcing needs.

What is the current admission process for Australian lawyers into the UK?

When heading to the UK, Australian lawyers must undertake the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (succeeding the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme in September 2021) to become a solicitor in England and Wales.

As Australia is a “recognised jurisdiction” under the SQE (carrying over from the QLTS) there is a simplified and expedited admission process under the SQE.

In their submission on the FTA the Australian Law Council called this process “relatively straightforward” and considered “satisfactory” in its current form.[2]

What will the process look like in the future?

We can look to New Zealand as a case study for mutual recognition. There is presently a Trans-Tasman mutual recognition for New Zealand lawyers entering Australia that has been in place since the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Act 1997 (TTMRA) gained assent in August of that year.

As an Australia or New Zealand lawyer the process for admission in the other country is a simple process under the TTMRA. Applicants from the other country need only apply to be admitted. Following this the applicant can apply for a practicing certificate.

If the UK and Australia follow this example then we could expect from as early as mid-2022 UK and Australian solicitors could gain admission to the other jurisdiction without the need to complete further units of study, additional practical legal training or sit any examinations, expediting and simplifying the admission process.

The result on the respective legal markets

The pathway between Australia and the UK legal market is well trodden, migration between the two countries isn’t a new phenomenon.

For Australian lawyers it’s often considered a rite of passage for junior solicitors to leave their Australian firms after they’ve obtained 2 – 5 years of post qualification experience (PQE) to take a role in the UK (specifically London). This exodus of talented Australian junior and mid-level lawyers is one of the factors driving the current scarcity of practitioners in that demographic.

With recent changes in appetites from firms to consider overseas qualified lawyers (2020/2021) and the impacts of COVID, the numbers of UK lawyers moving to Australia have been more limited as of late.

Mutual recognition will undoubtedly help to even this balance and encourage more junior and mid-level UK lawyers to seek work in Australia, which in turn will help Australian firms better manage their recruitment.

Overall, this is likely to provide a net benefit to the Australian legal sector with better flow of skills and capital from the UK to Australia, and a benefit to UK based lawyers looking to move to Melbourne, Sydney or another Australian city for work opportunities.

If you’re an England and Wales qualified lawyer and interested in the Australian legal market, then please get in touch with one of our team for further details on how to structure your move and request a copy of our London Salary and Market Report 2022.

[1] Law Council of Australia – AU-UK Free Trade Agreement at p. 11.

[2] Law Council of Australia – AU-UK Free Trade Agreement at p. 16.

Article written by Bracken Reeves, Senior Consultant, Beacon Legal.