The practice of law in New South Wales by unqualified entities is prohibited by section 10 of the Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW) (Uniform Law). Any advertising or representing that an unqualified entity is entitled to engage in legal practice is prohibited by section 11 of the Uniform Law. Rule 9 of the Legal Profession Uniform General Rules 2015 lists the titles that qualified entities only may use to describe their occupation.
The purpose of the prohibitions in sections 10 and 11 of the Uniform Law is to:
- ensure, in the interests of the administration of justice, that legal work is carried out only by those who are qualified to do so; and
- protect the public by ensuring that entities carrying out, and representing that they carry out, legal work are qualified to carry out that work.
Unqualified practice exposes the public to the risk of poor legal advice, representation, deception and obtaining professional services from uninsured entities - as well as damaging the reputation of the profession. It is unfair to solicitors who comply with all professional legislative and ethical obligations.
What is a qualified entity?
Each of the following is a qualified entity under the Uniform Law:
- a person admitted to the Australian legal profession who holds a current Australian practising certificate;
- an incorporated or unincorporated body that is either a sole practitioner, law firm, community legal service or incorporated or unincorporated legal practice;
- an “Australian-registered foreign lawyer”. That is, a person authorised to engage in legal practice in a foreign country (Foreign Lawyer) who holds:
- a current registration certificate granted under Part 3.4 of the Uniform Law; or
- a current registration certificate, or a document acknowledging the registration of a Foreign Lawyer, under a law of a “non-participating jurisdiction” (as defined in the Uniform Law) entitling the Foreign Lawyer to practise foreign law; or
- a Foreign Lawyer who is not an Australian-registered foreign lawyer, but only to the extent that his or her legal practice is:
- limited to the practice of foreign law; and
- carried out in accordance with the applicable requirements of Part 3.4 of the Uniform Law.
Given the above, a Foreign Lawyer, whether or not he or she is also an Australian-registered foreign lawyer is not qualified to practise Australian law in New South Wales unless and until he or she becomes admitted to the Australian legal profession and holds a current Australian practising certificate.
Please direct any questions regarding the admission of Foreign Lawyers to the Legal Profession Admission Board. You can access registration certificate application forms here.
What are the penalties?
The maximum penalty for engaging in unqualified legal practice is a fine of 250 penalty units [$27,500 on 1 July 2015] or imprisonment for 2 years or both.
The maximum penalty for an entity that holds itself out as entitled to engage in legal practice is 250 penalty units.
How to report unqualified practitioners
The Law Society’s Find a Lawyer facility provides a list of all solicitors in NSW. If a person does not appear on that list, then they do not hold a current Australian practising certificate issued by the Law Society of New South Wales.
If you believe that a person is doing legal work in New South Wales, or is holding themselves out as entitled to do legal work, but does not hold a current Australian practising certificate, information setting out your concern should be provided, in writing, to:
Director, Legal Regulation
Professional Standards Department
Law Society of New South Wales
170 Phillip Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Please contact the Professional Standards Department by telephone on 02 9926 0110 if you need assistance with providing information in writing.