The latest annual report from the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner (VLSB+C) wraps up a busy 12 months focused on protecting and empowering consumers, enhancing legal practice and ethics, and improving access to justice – with 2022 also marking 25 years of independent legal regulation in Victoria.
Lawyer numbers rising
Victoria’s legal profession grew by 4.7% in 2021/22, with more than 26,600 lawyers practising in the state. Nearly 75% of all new lawyers were women, who now make up 53% of the profession. The profession also continues to diversify, with around 23% of lawyers born overseas. To handle this growth we streamlined our processes and invested in technology to help deal with the thousands of enquiries we receive from lawyers and consumers each year.
Most lawyers do the right thing
Only 4.2% of all solicitors and 2.5% of all barristers had a complaint made against them in 2021/22. We opened 1,071 formal complaints, mostly related to family law, conveyancing, wills and power of attorney. The top issues were overcharging, negligence or poor case-handling, and professional conduct.
Strong action taken when needed
Where lawyers were found to be doing the wrong thing in 2021/22, we took decisive action to protect consumers and the community. This included finalising 13 prosecutions at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) and successfully applying to remove one lawyer from the Supreme Court’s Roll of Australian lawyers. We also identified serious problems with trust accounts at 13 law practices – with six warranting direct intervention or police referral – and continued to crack down on unqualified legal practice, issuing directions to 14 individuals.
Support for lawyers to perform at their best
In 2021/22, we developed six new resources to help improve lawyer wellbeing and three new resources to promote innovation in legal practice. We also released an information pack for new lawyers to provide them with extra guidance early in their careers. We took important steps towards stamping out sexual harassment in legal workplaces with the launch of an online reporting tool. Work also continued on implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants.
Funding what matters
With the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic still being felt by many community and legal organisations in 2021/22, we extended our support to 13 projects previously funded by our grants program, distributing an additional $1.4 million to ensure Victorians continued to have access to justice during this challenging time.
25th anniversary marked
It was 25 years ago that the Legal Practice Board and the Legal Ombudsman Victoria – precursors to the VLSB+C – were established as independent statutory bodies to regulate the legal profession in Victoria. Over that time the Victorian legal profession has evolved to become more diverse and representative of the community it serves. The introduction of Legal Profession Uniform Law has also meant Victorian lawyers now work under the same regulatory standards as their counterparts in New South Wales and Western Australia.
Quotes attributable to Fiona McLeay, Board CEO and Commissioner
“This was a productive year as we continued our transformation into a best-practice regulator. We made great strides in looking at how our data on the profession can be used to help us better support lawyers and protect consumers. This is allowing us to break new ground in areas such as early intervention.
As we look back on 25 years of independent legal regulation in Victoria, I want to acknowledge the organisations and people who have been part of shaping our evolution. Their knowledge has helped us grow into the robust and progressive regulator we are today. We are committed to building on that legacy into the future.”
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