Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules
The Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules (ASCR) were collaboratively developed by all of the state and territory law societies and other constituent professional bodies of the Law Council, as the agreed set of professional conduct rules for all solicitors in Australia.
The ASCR are a statement of solicitors’ professional and ethical obligations as derived from legislation, common law and equity. However, they also express the collective view of the profession about the standards of conduct that members of the profession are expected to maintain.
The ASCR were endorsed by Law Council Directors in June 2011 and have been adopted as the professional conduct rules for solicitors in South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria (and shortly Western Australia), Tasmania, and the Australian Capital Territory. The ASCR were adopted in accordance with the processes of each jurisdiction, which vary considerably. The Northern Territory presently maintains its own professional conduct rules.
The Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules 2011 were updated in March and April 2015. Except for the omission of former Rule 29.12.5, the minor changes did not alter the substance on any of the Rules.
The ASCR were made as the Legal Profession Uniform Law Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules 2015 under the Legal Profession Uniform Law (Uniform Law) which commenced in Victoria and New South Wales on 1 July 2015.
In the Uniform Law jurisdictions, section 427(2) of the Uniform Law empowers the Law Council to develop proposed Uniform Rules for Legal Practice, Continuing Professional Development and Legal Profession Conduct so far as they apply or relate to solicitors.
A copy of the ASCR, as currently in force, is available here.
Reviews of the ASCR
The Law Council periodically reviews the ASCR in consultation with its constituent bodies, regulators and other relevant stakeholders. The Law Council’s Professional Ethics Committee oversees these Reviews with the support of the Law Council’s Secretariat.
In 2018, the Law Council began the first comprehensive review of the ASCR since they were first promulgated in June 2011.
A copy of the Law Council’s Consultation Discussion Paper on the Review, dated 1 February 2018, is available here.
In March 2020, Law Council Directors endorsed the recommendations of its Professional Ethics Committee in respect of the Review. The Law Council is now working with the Uniform Law, and other state and territory jurisdictions to implement the revised ASCR in accordance with the processes of those jurisdictions. For more information on how the legal profession in Australia is regulated, please see here.
One of the issues arising out of the comprehensive 2018-2020 ASCR review was the need to clarify how existing ethical principles relating to avoiding conflicts of interest between current clients, or current and former clients, of a solicitor or law practice may be applied when providing short-term legal assistance services. For more information, please see the Law Council’s public consultation paper: Public consultation paper on short-term assistance services.
Further Review of Rule 42
Subsequent to the ASCR Review, further amendments were proposed in respect of Rule 42 (Anti- Discrimination and Harassment). This further review of Rule 42 was a result of the Law Council’s July 2020 National Roundtable Addressing Sexual Harassment and the subsequent consultations informing the Law Council’s National Action Plan to Reduce Sexual Harassment in the Australian legal profession (NAP).
The purpose of these amendments is to:
- clarify that Rule 42 applies to conduct that occurs in any setting connected to the practice of law;
- ensure that professional disciplinary bodies can appropriately respond to matters concerning sexual harassment as either unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct; and
- express the profession’s collective view that discrimination and harassment (and, in particular, sexual harassment) are unacceptable conduct when occurring in any situation connected to the practice of law.
For more information, please see the Public Consultation Paper on the revisions to ASCR 42.
Implementation of the Reviews
Following the above Reviews the Law Council is now working with the Uniform Law, state and territory jurisdictions to implement the revised Rules, in accordance with the processes of those jurisdictions.
Commentary to the Australian Solicitors' Conduct Rules
For the convenience of practitioners, a version of the ASCR has been prepared with an accompanying commentary. The Commentary is intended to provide additional information and guidance in understanding how particular Rules might apply in some situations. More detailed guidance and support for practitioners should always be sought from their respective state and territory law societies.
The current Commentary responds to the ASCR that are currently in force. Law Council Directors have resolved that an expanded Commentary be developed for the revised ASCR, following the implementation of the aforementioned Reviews.
The Commentary is not intended to be the sole source of information about the Rules – extensive information is available from the Law Council’s Constituent Bodies to assist in understanding the application of the ASCR to the variety of situations encountered in legal practice.
A copy of the current Commentary, is available here.
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