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. Check back here soon for more information about the commemorative events taking place throughout 2017.

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

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.
Sir Walter James KC, a former Premier and Attorney-General of Western Australia, becomes the Law Society’s first President on 3 October, serving as President until 1930.
The Law Society agrees to assist 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, under that Act.
Two representatives from the Law Society’s Council are appointed to the fledgling Faculty of Law at the University of Western Australia.
During the Great Depression, the Law Society appoints three members of its Council to confer with other public bodies on the subject of work for the unemployed.
The Law Society is a founding member of the Law Council of Australia.
The first High Court Dinner (for visiting judges of the High Court of Australia) is held on 24 August at the Esplanade hotel, with over 50 members in attendance.
The Law Society’s Secretary, Brian Simpson, resigns from his position following the declaration of war due to his military duties. He is one of several Law Society members to serve in the armed forces.
The Law Society provides free legal assistance to members of the armed forces and their families throughout the war.
The Law Society establishes a Law Reform Committee to consider and recommend law reforms.
The Society establishes the Law Society War Commemoration Prize at the University of Western Australia. 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.
The Law Society is incorporated under the provisions of the Associations Incorporation Act 1895 on 8 December.
The Law Society advocates for the consolidation and reprinting of Western Australian statutes.
The Law Society 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.
The Law Society 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”.
The Law Society adopts a statement of principles on professional conduct for members.
The Law Society holds regular education conferences for practitioners in country centres such as Bunbury and Geraldton.
The Law Society helps establish Law Trusts, a superannuation scheme for legal practitioners.
The Law Society establishes its own Legal Assistance Scheme.

Sheila McClemans, the Law Society’s first female Secretary (Chief Executive Officer), is appointed and administers the Legal Assistance Scheme.

The first Law Summer School conference is held at the University of Western Australia.
The Law Society’s 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.
The Law Society is successful in lobbying for the dock in criminal trials to be modified to “create a less penal aspect”. The Law Society 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.
The Law Society is granted tenure of the Old Court House for its premises.
1967 The Legal Contribution Trust Act is enacted establishing the Legal Assistance Fund to be administered by the Law Society.
On 30 August, a general meeting of the Law Society resolves to accept a proposal to establish a District Court system in Western Australia.
The Law Society works 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.
A Law Society Complaints Committee is established to assist members of the profession in their relations with the public. The Barristers’ Board seeks approval of complainants to refer their complaints to the Law Society to be delegated, in turn, to the Law Society’s Complaints Committee.

A local LAWASIA committee is also established.

On 4 October, a new Legal Aid Scheme begins operation at the Law Society receiving additional funding under the Legal Contribution Trust Act 1967 and the Legal Assistance Rules 1971. Former Secretary Loris Wood becomes inaugural supervisor.
The Law Society 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.
The Law Society 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.
The Law Society approves the constitution of the Post Graduate Legal Education Committee at the University of Western Australia. The committee includes Law Society representatives.
1974 The first issue of the Law Society’s Brief journal is published.
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 The Law Society was significantly involved in preparing submissions to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Future Organisation of the Legal Profession.
1980 The Law Society holds an overseas convention in Penang, Malaysia.
1983 The Law Society 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.
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, distinct from the Programme.

The Law Society’s Mock Trial Competition is also established in 1987.

The Law Society establishes the Law Access Pro Bono Referral Scheme.
Judy Eckert is the first female President of the Law Society.
1996 The Law Society 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.
1998 The Law Society establishes a Clear Writing Committee, convened by Professor Neil McLeod. The Law Society 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.
2002 On 20 June, the Law Society moves to new premises at 89 St Georges Terrace, Perth.
2004-05 An Oral Histories Working Group is established to ensure that the history of the WA legal profession continues to be documented.
2008 The Law Society significantly expands its Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme, following the introduction of mandatory CPD as part of the Legal Profession Act 2008.
2011 The Law Society 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 Law Society members.
2012 The Law Society moves to its current premises at 160 St Georges Terrace, Perth.
2013-14 The Law Society produces a detailed report reviewing the proposed national legal profession uniform law.
2014 The Law Society establishes a Professional Standards Scheme for its members to cap occupational liability.
Law Access Limited is incorporated as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Society and takes on the operation of the Pro Bono Referral Scheme.
The Law Society successfully advocates for the expansion of motor vehicle insurance, to guarantee that people who are seriously injured in road accidents are covered.
The Law Society joins the national Legal Aid Matters campaign against funding cuts to legal aid and community legal centres.