lay associates

The Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW) imposes legislative restraints on employing certain persons. Section 121 provides that a law practice must not have a lay associate whom any principal or legal practitioner associate of the law practice knows to be ‘a disqualified person’ or ‘a person who has been convicted of a serious offence’, unless the associate is approved by the ‘relevant authority’.

Who is a lay associate?

A lay associate is any associate who is not a legal practitioner and includes:

  • agents
  • employees, and 
  • persons who share receipts, revenue or other income arising from the law practice.

Who is a disqualified person?

A person is considered to be a ‘disqualified person’ under s 6 of the Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW) if:

  • their name has been and remains removed from the Australian Roll of Lawyers
  • their practising certificate has been suspended or cancelled, or its renewal has been refused
  • they are the subject of an order prohibiting them from working for, or in, a law practice, managing an incorporated legal practice, or being a partner in a multi-disciplinary partnership.

What constitutes a serious offence?

A serious offence is defined in s 6 and its meaning is expanded by the definition of "conviction" (also in s 6) which includes a finding of guilt, or the acceptance of a guilty plea by the court, whether or not a conviction is recorded. 

I am a disqualified lay associate. Can I still work?

A disqualified person, or a person convicted of a serious offence, must not seek to become a lay associate unless the person first informs the law practice of the disqualification or conviction.

What are the penalties?

A maximum of 100 penalty units can be sought to be imposed against a law practice that employs a person in breach of s 121.

Who are the relevant authorities?

In the case of a disqualified person who is an associate of a solicitor, the Law Society of NSW Council can give approval. In the case of a person who has been convicted of a serious offence, the NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal is the relevant authority.

How can I find out who is a disqualified lay person?

The Law Society of NSW is bound by the Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW) to retain a register of persons who have been disqualified from being employed by a legal practice. You can access this list at the Register of Disqualified Persons or by looking at a hard copy of the list held by the Law Society's Library.

How can my firm avoid the penalties?

As part of your management processes there should be in place a procedure for obtaining relevant information and authorities from future associates of your practice and a requirement for staff to advise should the requirement for disclosure of a serious offence or disqualification arise.