History of the Law Society

The Law Society is incorporated pursuant to section 7 of the Legal Practitioners Act 1981.

Under the Act, the Society may:

  • appoint inspectors to examine trust accounts maintained by legal practitioners;
  • appoint a supervisor to exercise control over trust accounts of legal practitioners where proper cause exists;
  • appoint a manager in respect of the practice of a practitioner or former practitioner;
  • establish a scheme to provide professional indemnity insurance for the benefit of legal practitioners;
  • manager and administer moneys deposited in the Combined Trust Account;
  • maintain the Statutory Interest account and the Legal Practitioners Fidelity Fund;
  • establish the validity of claims made under the Fidelity Fund; and
  • make an application to the Supreme Court or to the Legal Profession Conduct Commissioner concerning the conduct of a legal practitioner.

The Society was first established on 17 November 1879 as an unincorporated association. Since its establishment the Society has functioned as an active and integral part of the South Australian legal profession.

The original letter reads:

“At a preliminary meeting of the Members of the Legal Profession held on Monday, 13th October, resolutions were carried affirming the desirability of forming a Law Society, a Provisional Committee was chosen to frame a code of rules.
I am directed by the Provisional Committee to forward herewith a draft copy of proposed rules for your consideration and to particularly request you to attend a general meeting of all the profession to be held at Messrs. Knox and Gwynne’s Office on Monday, 17th inst., at 3 p.m. to settle the rules.
I remain Yours Faithfully 
Arthur M Hardy 
Hon Sec"


The original rules of the Law Club of South Australia (1851) were produced and a resolution was passed that the Rules and By-Laws be circulated amongst the Committee for their consideration. These rules were settled on 17 November, 1879. 

On 4 December 1879, only eight people turned up to consider a ballot of members. The meeting was adjourned for a week, whereby 19 people attended. Applications from 72 practitioners were received. The membership fee was set at 1 pound 1 shilling.


Key dates


1879 The Law Society was created on 13 October 1879 as an unincorporated association. The committee was formed on this day and present were Messrs Bundey (Chair), Ayers, Moulden, Labatte, Barlow, Bakewell, Sheridan and Hardy.
1880 First Annual General Meeting held on 30 June at Malborough Chambers, Waymouth St.
1883 First Rules repealed by the New Rules operational 1 January.
Law Society with the University of Adelaide established a Faculty of Law.
Membership: Over 60 members.
1885 Meetings of the Law Society held at Central Chambers, King William St until 1893.
1894 Meetings of the Law Society held at the office of the Honourable Secretary, James Henderson, 14 Waymouth St
1904 Meetings of the Law Society held at the office of Honourable Secretary, PE Johnstone, 38 Currie St until 1908
1909 Meetings held at the office of the Honourable Secretary, CA Edmunds, Bank of New Zealand Chambers, Pirie St
1911 The Female Law Practitioners Act was passed, permitting women to practise law in South Australia.
1915 The Society gained statutory incorporation in the Law Society Act 1915 improving the Society’s status and providing for the appointment of a Statutory Committee to investigate complaints against practitioners
1917 Membership: Approx 120 members
1920 The Lawbook Company takes over the publication of the State Law Reports
1924 Membership: 153 members
1933 Meetings of the Society held at the Commercial Bank Chambers, King William St.
The Law Society reaches an agreement with the State Government to administer a legal assistance scheme and is implemented in 1936 when the Poor Persons Legal Assistance Act is passed. This scheme was in place until the Legal Services Commission was established in 1979.
1936 Membership: 182 members
1938 Sir George Murray gifts 10,000 pounds to establish for the members of the Society a library. The library is named ‘The Murray Law Library’.

The Law Society once again undertakes to maintain the Red Cross Bureau for Wounded, Missing and Prisoners of War.  55 members engaged in war service in 1940 and by 1942 the number had risen to over 100.  A number of law students were also engaged in war service. The Law Society provided free legal aid to members of the active forces (mainly in the preparation of wills).

1941 Membership: 243 members
1942 When the threat from the Japanese was at its height some of the library’s collection was moved to the Sleeps Hill Tunnel for safe keeping.
1947/1948 The first woman Secretary of the Society, Miss Sesca Anderson (later Mrs Zelling) was appointed. She resigned upon her marriage but continued for sometime as acting Secretary.
1948 From about 1948 the premises of the Society were at the Exchange Building, 26 Pirie St (renamed the Commercial Union Building in 1952).
The first edition of the Law Society Judgment Scheme published.
1962 Membership: 381 members
The Law Society moves to Mutual Life Chambers, 44 Grenfell St.
1963/1964 Roma Mitchell appointed Vice President for two years 1963/64 to 1964/65 but does not become the Society’s first woman as she is appointed as a Judge of the Supreme Court.
1968 Membership at 475 members.
1967 The Law Society Bulletin was published for the first time.
1972 The new Legal Practitioners Act.
1979 The Law Society purchases its own premises in Gilbert Street.
1982 Opening of Law Society House, Gilbert Place.
1988  The Law Society purchases new premises in Waymouth Street.
1989 The Society relocates to 124 Waymouth Street.
1989 The Murray Law Library celebrates its 50 year anniversary
1990  In May 1990 the Chief Justice officially opens Law Society House
1992 Membership: 1723
1994  The Practical Legal Training course commences
1994 The Legal Practitioners Professional Indemnity Insurance Scheme established, pursuant to s 52 of the Legal Practitioners Act
1998 The Law Society’s website is launched
1999 The Law Society President’s Points of Law Column is published in The Advertiser
1999 The Law Society is given accreditation for its GDLP course and the the Legal Practice Centre at Franklin St opens
2000 The Law Society premises at Waymouth St are sold
2001 Membership: 2324
2004 The Law Society celebrates its 125th year anniversary
2008 Membership: 3061
2012 Christopher Kourakis is appointed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South Australia - he is the first past Law Society President to be appointed Chief Justice
The Society moves to new premises at 178 North Terrace
2017 Publication of the Law Society Judgement Scheme ceases
2018 Membership: 4091