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General Counsel

The role of General Counsel

General Counsel or heads of legal play a vital role as senior legal services practice leaders in the Australian Government. They oversee and are responsible for most legal issues arising in the Commonwealth. They also manage, directly or indirectly, most lawyers working in Commonwealth entities.

General Counsel are trusted legal advisers to entity heads across the Commonwealth and have a critical leadership role to play in Commonwealth legal services.

As the managers of individual legal practices in Commonwealth entities, they also play a key role in developing and contributing to high professional standards in legal practice management more broadly.

The Secretary's Review envisaged General Counsel working together to drive changes to improve efficiency and avoid duplicating effort and resources across in-house legal areas.

A shared understanding

The Secretary's Review recommended developing a General Counsel Charter to clarify the role of General Counsel.  

The Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department (AGD) and the AGLS Board have now endorsed the charter.

It identifies General Counsel's obligations as a broader leadership cohort within the AGLS. It also sets out how AGD's Office of Legal Services Coordination (OLSC) will support General Counsel to meet those obligations.

General Counsel and heads of legal will lead and promote their entity's engagement in the AGLS. This includes supporting their staff to take part in training, development and secondment opportunities.

The AGLS and its initiatives will help to connect General Counsel as a leadership cohort through:

  • shared development frameworks and networks
  • access to training opportunities
  • coordinated management of whole-of-government issues, in partnership with OLSC and AGS.

The Whole of Australian Government Legal Services Panel (recommendation 10 of the Secretary's Review), commenced on 15 August 2019. It supports the purchase of external legal services in a coordinated and efficient way.

Once established, the Australian Government Legal Advice Database (recommendation 5 of the Secretary's Review) will support General Counsel by:

  • reducing duplication
  • contributing to information sharing across the Commonwealth
  • helping General Counsel to provide coordinated and consistent legal advice.

The AGLS Board

Membership of the AGLS Board is drawn from General Counsel and heads of legal, as well as other senior Australian Government lawyers.

Visit the AGLS Board page for more information about the board.

Secretary’s Review of Commonwealth Legal Services

In December 2015, the Australian Government tasked the Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department to conduct a review of Commonwealth legal services. The findings and recommendations drew upon the expertise and experience of a diverse and highly engaged group of stakeholders across many Commonwealth entities and the legal services sector. It makes a number of wide ranging recommendations for improvements to the Commonwealth legal services framework.
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