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A law society in current and former Commonwealth jurisdictions was historically (and remains in some jurisdictions) an association of solicitors (effectively the trade organisation for solicitors) with a regulatory role that included the right to supervise the training, qualifications and conduct of lawyers/solicitors. Where there is a distinction between barristers and solicitors, solicitors were regulated by the law societies and barristers by a separate Bar Council.
Much has changed for law societies in recent years, with governments in Australia, New Zealand, England and Wales, and now Scotland (2010) creating government sponsored regulators for lawyers (both barristers and solicitors), leaving to law societies the role of advocacy on behalf of their members.
In Canada, law societies (or barreau, in Quebec) continue to have statutory responsibility for regulation of the legal profession in the public interest, leaving advocacy to the Canadian Bar Association.
In the United States, unified bar associations are somewhat similar to Law Societies; however, there are differences between law societies and the general American phenomenon of bar associations. Usually a bar association is an association of lawyers; lawyers may or may not join as they wish. Regulation of American lawyers usually takes places through the courts, which decide who gets admitted as a lawyer, and also decide discipline cases. Law societies are often created by legislation and play (or played) significant direct roles in the training, licensing and disciplining of lawyers. The conflict or roles between being a regulator and a trade association is seen by many as giving rise to the recent move to government sponsored regulators.
Law Societies also play a role as part of the justice system, and concern themselves with access to justice. As a result, they may offer paid and unpaid legal assistance to the public or specific target audiences, and have historically been involved in the development of legal aid plans.
Law societies in the British Isles
- Law Society of England and Wales (c. 1825)
- Law Society of Scotland (c. 1949)
- Law Society of Ireland (c. 1852)
- Law Society of Northern Ireland (c. 1922)
- Isle of Man Law Society (c. 1859)
- Ecclesiastical Law Society, Church of England
- Society of Solicitor Advocates, Scotland (1994)
Law societies in Australia
Law Societies in Australia represent the interests of solicitors and are organised in each State and mainland territory. Australia has a split profession, and barristers' interests are represented by separately-organised Bar Councils in each State and territory. The Law Council of Australia is a peak body representing the interests of all legal practitioners at federal level.
- Law Society of New South Wales (informally 1842; formally 1884)
- Law Society of Tasmania (informally 1845; formally 1888)
- Law Institute of Victoria (1859)
- Queensland Law Society (informally 1873; formally 1883)
- Law Society of South Australia (1879)
- Law Society of Western Australia (1927)
- ACT Law Society (1933)
- Law Council of Australia (1933)
- Law Society of the Northern Territory (1968)
Law societies elsewhere
- Law Society of Alberta (c. 1907)
- Law Society of British Columbia (c. 1869)
- Fiji Law Society
- Law Society of Hong Kong (c. 1907)
- Law Society of Manitoba (c. 1870)
- New Zealand Law Society (c. 1869)
- Law Society of Singapore (c. 1967)
- Law Society of Upper Canada (c. 1797)