Exploring the rapid innovation of the modern world and how we adapt to it

In 2017 the Law, Risk and Innovation Program will continue to build on collaborative projects focused on legal and regulatory responses to technological and social change.

Our members will continue to pursue projects that critically engage with the possibilities and perils of disruption; whether that disruption is from digitalisation, change in social values or global turbulence. Researchers in the Program focus on Australia but in a critical and global context; with the vision of contributing to Australian responses to disruption while also informing and participating in international scholarship.

Notable projects for 2017 include continual investigation of responses to automation in transport, service professions and government service delivery, credit and financial reform, cybersecurity and building fair and robust regimes for public integrity and accountability.

Project highlights

A Digital Profession? Technology, Access to Justice and Future Work in Law

Digital technology is transforming how the professions serve their communities. For law and the legal profession the concern has been access to justice. Access to justice has several elements; including equality under the law, equal access to courts and an affordable, independent and ethical legal profession. In Australia there is the claim that digital technology is enhancing access to justice by making quality law work more affordable and available and reorienting the conception of lawyers’ work as not so much a series of inputs but rather an understanding that law is something the consumer experiences. There is also the claim that digital technology is disrupting the legal profession, reducing access to justice through undermining standards, accountability and the health of lawyers. These claims have also been made in other jurisdictions. However, they have often been based on speculation or limited studies. What has not happened has been a comprehensive investigation of how digital technology is transforming access to justice and law work that informs the assessment of whether the transformations are enhancing or disruptive.

This project aims to be the first full investigation of the enhancements and disruptions of access to justice and law work by digital technology. Taking as its case study, the Australian experience, but with key comparisons to other countries, the project will examine:

  • How is digital technology transforming access to justice and law work in Australia?
  • Is the transformation enhancing or disrupting access to justice and law work in Australia?
  • How does the Australian experience compare to the transformations of access to justice and law work internationally?
  • How do the Australian and international findings contribute to a general understanding of digital disruption and the professions?

The project results will inform regulators and policy makers, the legal profession and the judiciary, and consumers of legal services in Australia and elsewhere.

Taxation, business structure and Australian small and medium business’ productivity

This project is headed by Law Futures Centre member Brett Freudenberg and seeks to determine what the regulatory framework for private enterprises should look like in the future. Despite calls for reforms in Australia (CPA, 2015) there has been little recent parliamentary action on business structures. In contrast, other jurisdictions (such as the USA, UK & NZ) have been pro-active in reviewing the appropriateness of their business structures and introducing new business structures, often designed to assist their SME sectors.

Research into the choices small and medium enterprises (SME) make in relation to choice of organisational structure is urgently overdue. As evidence from Australian and international research suggests, this is motivated by taxation considerations and might not result in the most economically efficient business structure for their longer-term performance. Given the size and importance of the SME sector, this tax-structure choice nexus, may be a potential drag on Australia’s business productivity. Australia had 1.96 million SMEs employing almost 3.6 million people (49% of all private sector employment) and contribute 35% of Australia’s GDP. SMEs can be an important source of innovation and employment.

This project will consider the legal and economic implications of choice of business structures by SMEs, and it will achieve these aims by answering the following questions: (a) What role do tax costs and non-tax costs (as noted in Scholes & Wolfson’s (1991) theory) play in the adoption of Australian SMEs’ business structures?; (b) What is the commercial efficacy of the various business structures used by Australian SMEs?; and (c) Is there sufficient justifications for the introduction of a new business structure for Australian SMEs?

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