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Country experience: Australia: legal services statistics

10.62.        The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) collects data for legal services by means of the quarterly international survey of trade in services which surveys resident Australian businesses.  ABS captures data from a broad range of respondents, but not a complete range, since resource constraints and collection difficulties restrict data coverage.  

10.63.        The data from the ABS survey is collected on a country/dollar value basis, asking only for the value of receipts and payments of total legal services. There is evidence that a significant percentage of international trade in legal services is provided by consultants and sole traders. It is currently beyond the resources of ABS to cover and process such a potentially large number of additional respondents. The true volume in resident/non-resident legal trade, therefore, can only be estimated or modelled on the basis of that anecdotal evidence. 

10.64.        The legal services data currently obtained by ABS on a quarterly basis is compiled solely from the survey of international trade in services. The final trade in legal services statistics are published quarterly and annually as part of the international trade in services series of publications and are posted for general access on the ABS website. 

10.65.        In 1990, the Australian Attorney-General’s Department in established the International Legal Services Advisory Council (ILSAC). Among other tasks, ILSAC produces an annual statistics survey on international legal trade. Unlike the ABS survey, the ILSAC survey is sourced from data representing all four modes of supply. In addition, when compiling data for international legal trade, ILSAC identifies earnings of overseas branches of Australian law firms as “exports”, while ABS identifies them as “returns on investment”. 

10.66.  Initial results from the ILSAC statistical surveys showed that the ABS data were understating the extent of international trade in legal services. Significant efforts have been made in recent years to improve the quality of ABS data and, to that end,  ABS is in contact with ILSAC to better align the data provided by both organizations. It is now possible to reconcile the differences that continue to appear on an annual basis between the data published by ABS and ILSAC. As the two surveys become better aligned, it will be possible to more accurately measure the size of trade in legal services.


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