Restrictive law rules to end, says Shatter
Minister says barristers and solicitors would work alongside each other in new practices
Restrictive practices will become illegal under new legislation, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times
Restrictive practices that control how the public interacts with members of the Law Library will become illegal under new legislation, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said.
Commenting on the Legal Services (Regulation) Bill yesterday, Mr Shatter said the ethos of the Bar Council, which regulates the Law Library, was to resist change, and it had done this successfully for well over 100 years.
In a blunt criticism of the profession, Mr Shatter said the Bill would wipe out restrictions on the ability of members of the Law Library to form partnerships with one another, and with solicitors, or to work as employees in multidisciplinary practises alongside other professionals such as surveyors and accountants.
‘Barriers to competition’
He said the current regulations which he saw as “barriers to competition” would “no longer be legal in this State”.
Addressing the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality – at which members of the Law Council of Ireland were present in the public gallery – Mr Shatter said it was the ethos of that body to resist change.
He said just one significant structural change had been made since 1870 and that was the comparatively recent move involving solicitors being heard in the superior courts. The Minister said legal services had been developed in colonial times and the he was “disappointed” by opposition to reform from lawyers themselves.
Central to the reforms in the Bill was the relaxation of rules that would allow barristers who are members of the Law Library to work as employees or partners in multidisciplinary law firms which employed solicitors working alongside barristers.
He told Pádraig Mac Lochlainn of Sinn Féin he did not understand opposition from barristers to working in such multidisciplinary practises alongside solicitors and others. He said unemployment among young lawyers was raised as a significant problem, but said there was no reason these people could not find work in a multidisciplinary practise working with solicitors who may provide a range of legal services, in “high-speed, rather than high-end” offices.
He said when the reforms in the Legal Services Bill were enacted he had no doubt some barristers would continue to operate in a “niche” position from the Law Library, and there would be no moves to prevent them doing so.
Some barristers would move to multidisciplinary practises and this would benefit the general population, he added.
Mr Shatter said it had been suggested that the State’s “big five” law firms creating multidisciplinary practices would “suck up” all the good lawyers. But he said this implied there would be no “good lawyers” operating outside the big five.