How to practise in Australia without re-qualifying

Guest post from Matthew Kay, managing director of Vario at Pinsent Masons

Kay: The legal profession will benefit hugely from the changes

It’s been said a million times: the pandemic has changed the way we work forever. But for many of us, it’s also changed the way we view our jobs and provided us with a new outlook as to what we really want from life.

You might have been considering a shift in your legal career for some time now, but many lawyers have ruled out practising abroad: even if they really want to, the prospect of requalifying seems all-too exhausting.

In the midst of the pandemic, which bought with it lockdown restrictions and furlough, it’s no wonder that lawyers might be afraid to move to a different country. Changing jobs is tricky enough, let alone leaving the UK altogether.

Until now. Those of you looking for a lateral career shift will be encouraged by the UK government’s announcement in June that UK lawyers will be allowed to practise in Australia without having to requalify, following a post-Brexit UK-Australia free trade agreement.

So maybe the checklist you need to follow is actually quite simple, with the new agreement making it easier than ever for UK lawyers to work in Australia.

At the moment, UK lawyers who want to move to Australia and re-qualify must adhere to a complex process managed by the state they’re moving to.

While the rules vary depending on the state, in most cases lawyers must take on additional legal duties through an Australian university or a provider of certificates for Australian legal practice. In addition, the individual must work under the supervision of a fully qualified Australian legal practitioner until they’ve obtained the extra qualification.

Further to pursuing extra qualifications, lawyers also need to have their current qualifications assessed, which is often costly – in the absence of a sponsorship, the process usually incurs a sum of a few hundred Australian dollars.

The new agreement will overhaul these complexities and transcend the barriers which currently exist for UK lawyers who wish to relocate to Australia, making the move smoother and more tangible than ever before.

Lawyers considering the move should tread carefully though, as the Law Society has cautioned that various practical barriers remain in relation to how qualifications will be recognised. It notes that, even if the proposal does go through, there are other factors to consider which will inhibit cross-border practice and increase costs for clients while simultaneously decreasing international opportunities for local lawyers.

As many of these barriers are considered ‘behind the border’, they won’t be taken into consideration in international trade agreements. So, until the circumstances become clearer, lawyers should wait to make definitive plans.

That’s not to say that the development isn’t overwhelmingly positive, as the legal profession will benefit hugely from the changes.

The deal provides opportunities for stronger collaboration between regulators in areas such as equality, the environment and animal welfare, meaning challenges such as unfair trade and climate change will be better dealt with than ever.

It also creates provisions for better digital trade, facilitating data to flow freely without requiring data localisation, much like the existing provisions in the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership). By breaking down some of the existing barriers to digital trade, Britain and Australia will be better equipped to engage with the digital economy.

For contract lawyers like our Varios, many of whom are already undertaking some work in Australia, these changes create even more opportunities for them to do so.

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