As we approach another year, we have again identified emerging issues to help you prepare for the challenges ahead. Our previous articles flagged the top five trends for Australian Government legal practice in 2022 and 2023. In many ways, those trends are a product of past events and by ensuring we adopt the learnings from them, we can better equip ourselves for what lies ahead.
Poet Amanda Gorman, best known for her poem ‘The Hill We Climb’, which she recited at the 2021 United States Presidential inauguration, captured this idea in ‘New Day’s Lyric’, a poem she wrote to herald the new year:
“We are learning that though we weren’t ready for this, we have been readied by it. We steadily vow that no matter how we are weighed down, we must always pave a way forward.”
Below is a summary of our top five trends for Australian Government legal practice in 2024.
Cybersecurity is high on the agenda with the recent data breaches affecting major companies and entities supporting the Australian Government. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has received additional funding and the Australian Government’s Response to the Privacy Act Review Report indicates a renewed focus on enforcing the Privacy Act. The recent Federal Court proceedings against Australian Clinical Laboratories Inc reinforces this view. Many of the recommendations accepted in the Response to the Privacy Act Review Report will have implications for in-house teams and the Australian Public Service more broadly. The proposed legislation implementing the reforms will be a space to watch in 2024.
The recent focus on generative AI, its potential benefits and its limitations in a legal setting, is a useful reminder of the range of tools that are available to support in-house legal practice. Many tools which are readily available to in-house lawyers can assist with supporting legal tasks. If you are interested in taking advantage of legal technology to assist your in-house team, applying these five steps can help set you on the path to success:
For further guidance, see our article: Five steps for success when adopting legal technology in-house.
This year has seen the spotlight shone on the work of government lawyers and the role of legal advice in supporting decision-making within the Australian Government to an unprecedented degree. Chapter 19 of the Report on the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme (Royal Commission Report) includes specific recommendations in relation to lawyers and legal services. Importantly, Recommendation 19.2 refers to regular training for in-house lawyers on core duties and responsibilities, including appropriate statutory and case authority references in advice writing. The recommendation highlights the importance of legal advice and the processes associated with performing in-house functions more generally. For many teams, this has resulted in taking a ‘back to basics’ approach, thoroughly analysing current processes to ensure they are fit for purpose and comply with current best practices. Further, teams are taking steps to ensure staff are trained in those processes and that they are consistently implemented.
Throughout 2023, various inquiries and reports have acted as a reminder of our professional responsibilities, both in court and in everyday practice. Recommendation 19.2 in the Royal Commission Report emphasises the duty to avoid any compromise to the integrity of in-house lawyers and their professional independence, and the challenges that may be presented to a government lawyer in fulfilling that obligation. Lawyers with practising certificates are required to undertake regular training on their professional responsibilities and ethical obligations. To ensure training on professional responsibilities for government lawyers is effective, issues faced by in-house lawyers need to be addressed.
We expect to see an increased focus on all aspects of legal services coordination in 2024 and how the policy outcome of achieving coordination across the Australian Government can be achieved in the most efficient and streamlined manner. The Attorney-General’s Department will conduct a review of Legal Services Directions 2017 (Cth) (Directions) following the acceptance of all recommendations in Chapter 19 of the Royal Commission Report in the Australian Government’s Response to the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme. Consistent with Recommendation 19.7 of the Royal Commission Report, the review will focus on simplifying the Directions. Given the fundamental role the Directions play in advising the Australian Government, it is worth looking out for your opportunity to input into this process.
The end of the year is an opportune time to reflect on the last twelve months and make plans for 2024. With these trends in mind, we hope you have a wonderful break and we wish you and your team every success in the new year.
If you have any questions about this article, please get in touch with our team below.
The information in this article is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavour to provide accurate and timely information, we do not guarantee that the information in this article is accurate at the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future.