Co-operative and mutual enterprises (CME’s) are amongst of the oldest business structures found in Australia. With an estimated 2,031 co-operatives, they are represented across many industry sectors. From financial services to health insurance, and agribusiness to retailing the scale of their diversity is far as it is wide.
But what exactly is a co-operative? A co-operative is a people-centric enterprise, owned, controlled, and run by it’s members. Co-operatives strive to realise the mutual economic, social, or cultural aspirations of it’s members. While most of Australia’s co-operatives are indeed small, don’t let this fool you. A report from the Business Council of Co-Operatives and Mutuals, showed that our top 100 CME’s had a combined annual turnover of over $32.8 billion dollars in FY19-20.
Advantages of the co-operative model are plentiful. They improve bargaining power, reduce costs, improve access to products or services, aid expansion, and increase income. However, like most modes of business they are subject to complex regulations and governed by legislation.
If you are already a member, considering forming – or joining a cooperative, you may benefit from some specialised advice. That is where Canberra’s co-operative law specialists come into play. Co-operative law specialists are typically business or commercial lawyers with a flair for the co-operative system.
They have significant professional experience in the formation, structuring, and running of co-operative businesses. Importantly, they are experts in co-operative law, and are well connected to industry. If you are looking to engage a co-operative law expert, then you have come to the right place. We have compiled a list of some helpful assessment criteria, along with some of the best co-operative law experts that the ACT has to offer below.
What makes a great co-operative law expert?
The best co-operative law experts promote thriving business enterprises. Finding the right co-operative lawyer can be challenging so here are our tips on what to look out for:
- Qualified & experienced. Law is an incredibly complex field, requiring years of tertiary study. Following a degree, all lawyers must gain formal admission to the profession by the Supreme Court of the ACT. Additionally, they require a practising certificate as issued by the Law Society. To support these qualifications, look for experience. Good co-operative law experts have years of experience across various industries, nationally and here in the ACT.
- Business law specialists. A business law specialisation is fundamental when it comes to understanding how co-operatives work. So, when it comes to selecting your legal counsel ensure they are true business law experts. A talented business lawyer will have demonstrable experience setting up corporate structures, guiding commercial strategies, and meeting governance responsibilities. Moreover, knowledge of how the private commercial sector interacts with the Commonwealth Government can also be valuable in Canberra.
- Dedicated co-operatives team. From a legal perspective, co-operatives can be incredibly complex. You may realise better outcomes working with a dedicated team who deals with co-operatives every day, rather than a lawyer who does so occasionally. When it comes to assessing the team look for experience in establishment, structure and obligations, and member rights. Importantly, look for applications of the Co-Operative National Law. Finally, consider their existing client set. Look for synergies with industries, products, and services that are akin to yours and match accordingly.
- Fast-acting. When it comes to business, time is money. Some matters may require urgent attention while other are subject to strict time limits. The best co-operative law experts act accordingly. They are responsive, they plan proactively, and ensure all deadlines are met. They are also incredibly efficient, with streamlined processes, clear guidelines and offer prompt advice.
- Assertive. Assertive co-operative law experts can state their position and ensure they are heard – all whilst remaining respectful of others. This quality is an effective yet diplomatic communication style as it helps to develop mutual respect between parties. Given the nature of the co-operative model, an assertive legal team can help to retain focus and move things along. With this comes the ability to work more efficiently towards the best possible outcome.
The best co-operative law experts in Canberra
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With over ten year’s legal service within Canberra’s business community, Kamy Saeedi Law have built an enviable reputation as one of the leading commercial legal counsels in the region.
They boast a balanced team of highly experienced partners and talented young lawyers who are passionate about helping businesses of all types and distinctions. Their remarkably talented team are fuelled by a genuine desire to achieve the best possible outcome for each, and every business.
And, when it comes to co-operatives, they certainly appreciate the nuances and complexities prevalent in this style of business. Kamey Saeedi Law understand that while offering many benefits, co-operative structures present their own unique set of challenges.
This highly specialised facet of commercial law carries financial, tax, regulatory, and organisational distinctions that requires legal experience to start and run a co-operative. For meticulous, hard-working commercial law experts, look to Kamy Saeedi Law.
As Thomas Elliot shared on Google, “Dedicated lawyers with great advice!”
Emergency After Hours Contact: 1800 531 467
Colquhoun Murphy Lawyers provides business and corporate advisory services to small and large businesses in industries including insurance, finance, property, media and construction. One of the great things about working with Colquhoun Murphy Lawyers is that its team keeps in close contact with your accountants, ensuring that all aspects of taxation, litigation and financing are covered.
Located in the heart of Canberra, BAL Lawyers boasts a stellar reputation and impressive track record for achieving positive client outcomes.
BAL Lawyers' specialist co-operatives team has years of experience establishing new co-operatives, advising on the co-operative structure and member rights, and advising on the introduction and application of the Co-operative National Law. It facilitates regular workshops about co-operatives and the role of collaborative-decision making, and is on the panel of specialists for the Commonwealth’s Farm Co-operatives & Collaboration Pilot Program.
For other business services see our articles on the best chartered accountants, the best business advisors, the best marketing agencies, and the best managed information technology support services.
Your experience with co-operative law experts in Canberra
Thanks to our commenters who have provided insightful feedback. If you believe we have got it wrong, please let us know.
Have you had experience with any of the co-operative law experts listed above? If so, share your feedback in the comments below.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a co-operative?
A co-operative is a legally incorporated structure designed to serve the interests of its members. They can operate across all sectors and may be profit sharing or non-profit organisations. Co-operatives typically provide goods or services that may be unavailable or too costly for individuals to access. They generally operate under the principals of non-discrimination, democracy, independence, education, and care for communities. Members are usually expected to utilise or contribute toward their co-operative and have an equal say in the running of the organisation. Co-operatives are subject to state and territory legislation the Co-operatives National Law.
What is the difference between distributing and non-distributing co-operatives?
The core difference between the two is whether they distribute profits to members or not. As the name suggests, distributing co-operatives can distribute any annual profits to members. To do this, the organisation needs to have share capital, with members owning a minimum quantity as specified by legislation. On the other hand, non-distributing co-operatives can not share profits with members, rather all profits should further the co-operative’s purpose.
How can I set up a co-operative within the ACT?
To form a co-operative in the ACT at least five founding members aged 18 years and over with a shared interest in at least one primary activity are needed. From here there are main three steps to form and register. First is the pre-formation process which involves compiling and submitting a disclosure statement and draft rules for approval. Next is the formation meeting, whereby the disclosure statement and draft rules are presented and passed by members. The third step is lodgement and payment of the registration with Access Canberra. Once registration has been approved, a Certificate of Registration will be issued, and the new co-operative may commence. See Access Canberra for details and consider seeking professional advice.
How are small and large co-operatives different?
Generally, the main difference between small and large co-operatives is their membership and financial standing. Small co-operatives are usually classified as such when they have fewer than 30 members, with consolidated revenue and consolidated gross assets of less than $8 million and $4 million respectively in a financial year. Large co-operatives typically have more than 30 members, with consolidated revenue and consolidated gross assets exceeding $8 million and $4 million respectively in a financial year. That said, a co-operative can also be classified as large for a particular financial year if they issue shares to more than 20 prospective members with a value exceeding $2 million or if they have securities on issue to non-members.
How is a co-operative wound up?
A co-operative may choose to close for various reasons, including declining membership or if the reason for establishing the co-operative no longer exists. A co-operative can be wound up voluntarily by members or creditors, by the ACT Supreme Court, or on a certificate of the Registrar of Co-operatives. The process must be in accordance with the Co-operatives National Law (ACT) Act 2017 and the approved rules of the co-operative. Members may also wish to obtain their own independent legal advice about how to conduct the winding up process.