90 Years of the Law Society

90 Years of the Law SocietyIn 2017, the Law Society of Western Australia celebrates 90 years since it was established.

On 15 June 1927, about 30 lawyers agreed to form an association for the legal profession in Western Australia.

At the Law Society’s first Annual General Meeting on 3 October 1927, Rules were adopted approving the following objects for the Society:

  • To represent generally the views of the profession to preserve and maintain its integrity and status; to suppress dishonourable conduct or practices; to provide for the amicable settlement or adjustment of professional disputes, and to consider and deal with all matters affecting the professional interests of members of the Society.
  • To encourage and promote the study of law and to provide means for securing efficiency and responsibility on the part of those seeking admission to the profession.
  • To consider, originate and promote reform and improvements in the law; to consider proposed alterations, and oppose or support the same; to remedy defects in the administration of Justice; to effect improvements in Administration or practice. And for the said purposes to petition Parliament and to take such other proceedings as may be deemed expedient.
  • To form and maintain a law library and reading rooms.
  • To acquire any rights or privileges which the Society may regard as necessary or convenient for the purposes thereof, and for promoting social intercourse between the members of the profession.
  • To provide for the relief of distressed and deserving members of the profession and their families and to make disbursements therefor out of the general funds of the Society.
  • To do all such other things as are incidental and conducive to the attainment of the above objects.

There were 96 Foundation Members at the time of the Law Society’s first Annual General Meeting. Over the ensuing 90 years, the Law Society has grown significantly, achieving a record membership of 3,785 in 2016. The Law Society continues to enhance the legal profession through its position as a respected leader and contributor on law reform, access to justice and the rule of law.

Some historical milestones

1927 On 15 June, at a meeting of about 30 practitioners at the Supreme Court Library, presided over by the Master of the Supreme Court, Thomas Frederick Davies, Mr Thomas Davy moves “that an Association of Legal Practitioners of Western Australia be formed”. The motion is seconded by Mr Michael Lavan. After a short discussion, the motion is put and carried unanimously.
1927 Sir Walter James KC, a former Premier and Attorney-General of Western Australia, becomes the first President on 3 October, serving until 1930.
1928 Assists in the execution of the Poor Persons’ Legal Assistance Act 1928 and becomes instrumental in the operation of Western Australia’s first formalised legal aid system, connecting volunteer practitioners and applicants.
1928 Two representatives from the Council are appointed to the fledgling Faculty of Law at the University of Western Australia.
1930 During the Great Depression, appoints three members of Council to confer with other public bodies on the subject of work for the unemployed.
1933 A founding member of the Law Council of Australia.
1934 The first High Court Dinner is held on 24 August at the Esplanade hotel, with over 50 members in attendance.
1939-45 Several members serve in the armed forces, including the Secretary, Brian Simpson, who resigns from his position following the declaration of war, to take up military duties.
1939-45 Provides free legal assistance to members of the armed forces and their families throughout the war.
1940 Establishes a Law Reform Committee to consider and recommend law reforms.
1946 Establishes the Law Society War Commemoration Prize at the UWA. The prize is to the value of £10 and is awarded to the best student at the Barristers’ Board examination, to perpetuate the memory of those who fell in the war.
1947 Incorporated under the provisions of the Associations Incorporation Act 1895 on 8 December.
1948 Advocates for the consolidation and reprinting of Western Australian statutes.
1953 Recommends an amendment to the Legal Practitioner’s Act to remove the qualification “natural born or naturalised British subject” from section 9 of the Act.
1954 Advocates for the creation of a new offence of drink driving relating to “being in control of a vehicle with a certain alcoholic content in the blood”.
1954 Adopts a statement of principles on professional conduct for members.
1958 The first South West Legal Convention is held in Bunbury.
1958 Oscar Negus QC becomes the first Western Australian President of the Law Council of Australia.
1959 The Australian Legal Convention is held in Perth for the first time.
1960s Hosts regular education conferences for practitioners in country centres such as Bunbury and Geraldton.
1960 Establishes Law Trusts, a superannuation scheme for legal practitioners.
1960 Establishes its own Legal Assistance Scheme.
Sheila McClemans, its first female Secretary (Chief Executive Officer), is appointed and administers the Scheme.
1961 The first Law Summer School conference is held at UWA
1963 Council is enlarged from 11 to 17 members, allowing formation of larger committees, including an Activities Committee “charged with the arrangement of all ceremonial, social and educational functions” and a House Committee “to deal with long range planning for accommodation for the Society and other matters appropriate to its growth.” Other committees include Professional Affairs, Law Reform, Legal Aid, Complaints and Costs and Rules.
1963-64 Successful in lobbying for the dock in criminal trials to be modified to “create a less penal aspect”. Also recommends that the age of criminal responsibility be reduced to 18 (from 21), and that attempted suicide no longer be considered a criminal offence.
1965 Obtains its own premises at the Old Court House, Stirling Gardens.
1967 Begins administering the Legal Assistance Fund, following the enactment of the Legal Contribution Trust Act.
1969 On 30 August, resolves to accept a proposal to establish a District Court system in Western Australia.
1969-70 Partners with the Real Estate Institute of Western Australia to develop the General Conditions for the Sale of Land, replacing the outdated Table A Schedule to the Transfer of Land Act.
1969-70 Complaints Committee established to assist members of the profession in their relations with the public.

A local LAWASIA committee is also established.

1971 On 4 October, begins a new Legal Aid Scheme. Former Secretary Loris Wood becomes inaugural supervisor.
1972 Supports the work of the New Era Aboriginal Fellowship. The Fellowship’s Justice Committee was chaired by the Hon Robert French AC, who later became Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia (2008 – 2017) and Society Life Member (2002). The Fellowship evolved into the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA in 1974.
1972 Advocates for bail laws to be changed to place the onus on the police or the Crown to demonstrate why bail should not be granted, rather than the burden falling upon the accused.
1973 Approves the constitution of the Post Graduate Legal Education Committee at UWA, with representatives appointed to the Committee.
1973 The Australian Legal Convention is held in Perth for the second time.
1974 The first issue of Brief is published.
1974 Establishes a Law Museum at the Old Court House.
1977 On 13 December the Legal Aid Commission Act is assented to, allowing the Legal Aid Commission of Western Australia to take over the operation of the Legal Assistance Scheme.
1980-81 Involved in preparing submissions to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Future Organisation of the Legal Profession.
1980 Hosts an overseas convention in Penang, Malaysia.
1983 Adopts new Professional Conduct Rules, which recognise the right of lawyers to advertise their services.
1983 The first ‘Law Day’, a precursor event to the current Law Week, is held on Monday, 18 April.
1985 Moves its premises to 68 St Georges Terrace, Perth.
1985 The Public Purposes Trust is established. In its role as Trustee, sets policies with regard to the investment of the Trust’s assets and provides administration services to the Trust.  Applications are assessed through an independent three stage process by an Allocations Committee and the Attorney General.
1987 The Francis Burt Law Education Centre is established at the Old Court House. In 2011, the Centre is renamed the Francis Burt Law Education Programme, with the Old Court House Law Museum relaunched as a separate entity.

The Mock Trial Competition is also established.

1987 The Australian Legal Convention is held in Perth for the third time, with the theme ‘Winds of Change’.
1989 In December, purchases 33 Barrack Street, Perth as a joint venture with the Public Purposes Trust.
1990 Establishes the Legal Superannuation Fund. The Fund is managed by AMP, with Trustees consisting of an equal number of legal employers and employees who control the fund.
1990 Assists the Supreme Court in establishing an expedited hearing list, to reduce trial delays. At the invitation of the Supreme Court, representatives are involved in introducing case flow management procedures to the Court.
1990 Adopts rules for an Accreditation Scheme. This ultimately leads to the present day Accredited Family Law Specialist programme (the Law Society is also a Recognised Mediation Accreditation Body and maintains its Quality Practice Standard for law firms).
1991 Establishes a Computerisation Committee.
1992 Establishes the Law Access Pro Bono Referral Scheme.
1993 Advocates against the introduction of new workers’ compensation legislation, which, in its view, constitutes an attack on fundamental rights. Activities include the convening of a press conference and an advertising campaign.
1994 Runs a Mobile Legal Advice Van which travels around the suburbs of Perth and visits country areas.
1994-95 Implements an Articles Training Program to assist law graduates.
1995 Judy Eckert is the first female President.
1995 Establishes Law Mutual (WA), which makes Professional Indemnity Insurance arrangements on behalf of Western Australian practitioners. Compulsory risk management is introduced to help improve service to the public and reduce premiums. A panel of solicitors is established to which any claims are referred.
1995 Successfully advocates for an inquiry into Legal Aid at both the State and Federal Level. President Judy Eckert is a representative on the review panel.
1996 Helps develop a new case management system for the District Court and Supreme Court.
1996 Develops the Quality Practice Standard (QPS), which recognises firms that have developed and adhere to documented internal processes designed to improve client satisfaction and avoid wastage.
1996 Develops its first website.
1996 Develops a Plain Language Costs Agreement, which is distributed to members.
1996 Adopts guidelines against discrimination and sexual harassment.
1997 Brings together various interest groups and the media for a Legal Aid Crises Summit at the Supreme Court. Makes approaches to the State and Commonwealth Attorneys General and Legal Aid Commissioners to solve faltering negotiations on funding.
1998 Establishes a Clear Writing Committee, convened by Professor Neil McLeod. Runs an annual plain English drafting competition for law students, which is incorporated into the first year legal writing course at the Murdoch University School of Law.
1998 A Professional Liability Committee is established to assist in preparing a scheme under the Professional Standards Act 1997.
1999 Strongly advocates for an improvement in legal assistance funding, lobbying both the Commonwealth and State Attorneys General. Opposes the introduction of tendering for criminal case work on the grounds that it would deny legally aided accused their solicitor of choice and would have an adverse long term effect on the development of specialist criminal lawyers. Successfully advocates for the stabilisation of the Legal Aid Commission through the prompt appointment of a permanent Director.
1999 Calls successfully for a competition policy review into proposed legislation to abolish the Town Planning Appeals Tribunal.
1999 Convenes a symposium with all courts and stakeholder groups, including 20 community groups, on 1 May to discuss how the courts might improve their services to the public. Following the symposium, the courts report rapid implementation of changes, especially relating to the physical layout, security and signage of the court buildings, as well as development of better integration of services for witnesses, victims and unrepresented litigants.
1999 Makes a submission to the State Government for the introduction of legislation which would allow practitioners to incorporate their practices and facilitate the move to multidisciplinary partnerships. The submission is approved and legislation drafted.
2000 Provides a suite of resources for the profession in the run up to the 1 July implementation of the GST. Carries out a State-wide education campaign, attended by over 600 practitioners, and sets up a dedicated GST website and email advisory service.
2000 Works to improve access of country practitioners to court services and introduces a scheme of two annual complementary vouchers for Continuing Legal Education papers for country practitioners.
2001 The Chief Justice’s Law Week Youth Appeal Trust is established by members “to create an ongoing charitable fundraising effort by legal practitioners to support youth charities, including (but not limited to) those for youth with disabilities and, in particular, youth support services that assist in diverting youth from the criminal justice system.” The Hon Chief Justice David Malcolm AC is the inaugural patron.
2001 Enters into negotiations with the Department of Justice to draft an omnibus Bill to amend the Legal Practitioners Act 1893. The Bill provides for the national practising certificate, incorporated legal practices, multidisciplinary practices, supervision of foreign lawyers, practising third country law and mandatory Continuing Legal Education. The Bill ultimately becomes the Legal Practice Act 2003.
2002 On 20 June, after selling its Barrack Street premises, moves to new leased premises at 89 St Georges Terrace, Perth.
2002 Undertakes three projects related to the WA Law Reform Commission Civil and Criminal Justice reference: a review of the professional conduct rules; a review of the Litigation Assistance Fund; and an examination of the feasibility of mandatory Continuing Legal Education.
2002 Implements a sexual harassment mediation strategy as part of two new professional conduct rules against sexual harassment. A panel of lawyer and non-lawyer mediators are trained by the Law Society and the Equal Opportunity Commission.
2004-05 An Oral Histories Working Group is established to ensure that the history of the WA legal profession continues to be documented.
2005 The Young Lawyers Committee, in conjunction with the Young Professionals Network, holds the Young Professionals Ball at Burswood.
2005-06 Re-establishes its Access to Justice Committee and makes representations to the Federal and State governments to improve funding to Legal Aid WA.
2005-06 Facilitates a free legal advice service for the community during Law Week, which is advertised on Channel 7 and is in very high demand. The service is well supported by metropolitan and country firms.
2006 Enters into a joint venture with the University of Western Australia to revive the Law Summer School conference, which had last been held in 1993. The keynote speaker is the Rt Hon Lord Justice Kennedy on ‘The Rule of Law and Changes in Human Rights in the Age of Terror’.
2006 The national Golden Gavel competition is held in Perth for the first time. Western Australia’s representative, Andrew Baker, had won the competition in 2005.
2006 President Wayne Martin QC (now the Hon Wayne Martin AC) is appointed Chief Justice of Western Australia.
2007 Adopts ‘The voice of the legal profession in Western Australia’ as its tagline.
2008 Significantly expands its Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme, following the introduction of mandatory CPD as part of the Legal Profession Act 2008.
2008 Life Member the Hon Robert French AC is appointed Chief Justice of Australia. A cocktail function is held to celebrate the appointment.
2009 Establishes an Aboriginal Lawyers Committee (since renamed the Indigenous Legal Issues Committee).The purpose of the Committee is to support Aboriginal lawyers, graduates and law students in their professional development, as well as to communicate with the legal profession and the broader community on issues of importance to Aboriginal people.
2009-11 Takes a leading role in the public debate on a number of ‘law and order’ issues, including opposing increased stop and search powers for police, prohibited behaviour orders, ‘naming and shaming’ of children and continuing to oppose mandatory sentencing and unacceptably high juvenile detention rates.


Continues to promote sentencing reform and reconsideration of criminal property confiscation laws.

Long-term advocacy on jury reform results in legislative amendments to make juries more representative and strengthen the criminal justice system.

2011 Launches its Report on Psychological Distress and Depression in the Legal Profession, which results in 29 recommendations, including the establishment of a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Committee and a revamped LawCare WA service, providing professional, confidential and free counselling services to support members.
2012 Purchases and moves to its current premises at 160 St Georges Terrace, Perth.
2013-14 Produces a detailed report reviewing the proposed national legal profession uniform law.
2014 Establishes a Professional Standards Scheme for its members to cap occupational liability.
2014-15 Undertakes an organisational review, resulting in improved and more targeted communication with members and increased efficiency.
2015 Develops a new website, providing practitioners with easier access to a vast range of resources and toolkits, best practice guides and a member dashboard allowing for improved management of membership and CPD needs.
2015 Launches its first Reconciliation Action Plan, ‘Reflect’. The Plan outlines how it will achieve its vision of a profession where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander law students, graduates and practitioners feel valued and respected.
2015 Law Access Limited is incorporated as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Law Society and takes on the operation of the Pro Bono Referral Scheme.
2015 Adopts he Law Council’s Diversity and Equality Charter. The Charter states that the “Australian legal profession is committed to promoting diversity, equality, respect and inclusion consistent with the principles of justice, integrity, equity and the pursuit of excellence.”
2015-16 Achieves a record membership of 3,785 (an increase of 55% in 10 years).
2015-16 Member satisfaction increases to 83% (up 25% from 2007).
2016 Successfully advocates for the expansion of motor vehicle insurance, to guarantee that people who are seriously injured in road accidents are covered.
2016 Joins the national Legal Aid Matters campaign against funding cuts to legal aid and community legal centres.

In April 2017, the Federal Government announces that it will restore funding to community legal centres in the Budget and not proceed with previously proposed cuts of approximately $35 million.

In the same month, the State Attorney General, the Hon John Quigley MLA announces plans to provide community legal centres with almost $1.2 million to compensate for the loss of funding from the Legal Contribution Trust.

2016 Women make up 60% of the Council.
2016 1,204 students take part in the Mock Trial Competition.
2017 Celebrates its 90th anniversary.