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Frequently asked questions

Application Process

How long will my application take to process?

The normal time frame is 4-8 weeks. If an application is referred to the Practice Approval Committee, more time is required.

The Law Society endeavours to process applications as quickly as possible, however the process itself takes some time as it is necessary to advertise the applications, and to arrange and conduct interviews with applicants.

A non-standard application (for example, where matters have been declared in the fit and proper section of the application form) may be referred to the Practice Approval Committee for consideration, and therefore will take more time.

Is there any discretion available regarding the legal experience requirements under r12(3) of the Practice Rules?

Yes. If you do not meet this requirement you may apply under r12A – “special circumstances.” For any application made under special circumstances, please include a letter outlining why you think that your application should be approved under this regulation.

All “special circumstances” applications are referred to the Practice Approval Committee.

Is there an urgency fee that I can pay to process my application quickly?

No. We will use our best endeavours to process applications as quickly as possible, but the process itself takes some time as we advertise all applications and arrange and conduct interviews. However, it would be helpful if you give an indication on your application form as to when you intend to commence practice on your own account, if approved.

References

Guidance regarding references is set out at note 3 of the “Guide to Form” notes contained in the Application for Approval to Practise on Own Account application form.

I last practised on my own account over 10 years ago, and wish to recommence practice. What do I need to do?

S31(3) of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 applies. When applying to recommence practice on own account under s31(3) you need to satisfy the Law Society that you have received adequate instruction in the duties of a barrister and solicitor or of a barrister, as the case may require. What amounts to adequate instruction depends on your particular circumstances. Registry can provide guidance on this.

We require references from your employer/s to comment on the nature, extent and quality of your legal work in the last 5 years. If possible it would also be helpful to have references from lawyers you have worked with outside your organisation, for example if you have instructed/briefed outside counsel to conduct litigation.

I have only worked for 1 employer in a sole practice. What other referees/references may be suitable?

Consider references from other lawyers (preferably who are practising on their own account, so that they can comment meaningfully on your suitability to practise on own account) who have been on the other side of matters with you. For example, opposing counsel in litigation, or the lawyer on the other side of a transaction, also barristers or other counsel you have briefed/instructed you on matters and who continued to work closely with you.

They need to be familiar enough with your work so they can adequately comment on your experience and competence in your intended areas of practice.

I have a strained relationship with an ex-employer within the last 5 years. Do I have to provide a reference from them?

It is important to have references from lawyers who are practising on own account and have been your direct supervisor, as they are in the best position to comment on your competence and experience in your intended areas of practice.

You should ask for a reference from your employer and if they are unwilling to give one, provide a written explanation to the Law Society as to why and provide any supporting evidence as appropriate. It is likely that despite the strained relationship the lawyer will feel a professional responsibility to provide a reference.

The Law Society must be satisfied from the information provided that you are competent to practise in your intended areas of practice without risk to consumers or the reputation of the profession. The weight given to particular references will depend on matters such as the referee’s familiarity with your work, and whether it is sufficient to satisfy the Law Society as to your competence and suitability.

I can’t provide sufficient references to cover all of my intended areas of practice. Can I still practise in these areas?

All lawyers are under an obligation to only practise in areas in which they are competent. If there is insufficient information to satisfy the Law Society as to your competence in a particular area of law, it may ask you to provide an undertaking not to practise in that area of law until you have obtained further experience through working with a mentor, or as a junior for senior practitioners who are approved to practise on own account and who work in those particular areas.

I'm employed by a sole practitioner who is a family member, and have been since admission. Can my employer be a referee? If not, do you have any suggestions on who I should ask to be a referee?

Usually family members are not accepted as referees. However, for s30 applications we do require a reference from your employer who is in the best position to comment on the quality of your work, your experience and competence in your intended areas of practice, and your suitability to practise on own account. The fact that they are a family member will be taken into account when assessing the weight given to the reference.

You are required to provide at least two references. In these circumstances we would recommend that you provide an additional two references to that of your employer. Preferably these references would be from other lawyers who are practising on their own account, who have been on the other side of matters with you, or who you have instructed, that are familiar enough with your work that they can adequately comment on your experience and competence in your intended areas of practice, and your suitability to practise on own account.

I am an in-house lawyer who is not supervised by a lawyer. What references would be required?

A reference from your supervising manager commenting on the nature, extent and quality of your legal work in the role is required. It would also be helpful to have references from lawyers you have worked with outside your organisation, for example if you have instructed/briefed outside counsel. Please note that as a minimum, two references covering each intended area of practice would be required.

Can references be given by two of the partners from the same firm?

Yes. You may have been employed continuously by one firm for the last 5 years. Please provide references covering all your legal experience in New Zealand in the last 5 years. You need to have at least 2 references covering each intended area of practice. You may be required to provide additional references to cover this criteria.

Areas of Practice

What sort of supporting information is required to cover my intended areas of practice? Does the Law Society want a sampling of some of the cases/submissions that I have worked on?

The best information in support of your intended areas of practice are references as they provide an independent assessment of your experience and competence in your intended areas of law.

Your CV should provide information regarding the nature and extent (e.g. the number of cases and at what level) of your legal experience so that your application can be assessed in accordance with the criterion in r12(5)(a) of the Practice Rules. You may consider submitting a CV specifically tailored for this purpose.

Legal Experience

The definition of “legal experience” is set out in r3 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Practice Rules) Regulations 2008 (“the Practice Rules”).

I have legal experience in NZ of slightly less than 3 years, but I meet the 4,830 hour requirement (counting a maximum of 40 hours in any one week). Will that satisfy the “required minimum amount of recent legal experience” requirement?

Yes. Under Rule 3 (c) of the definition of “required minimum amount of recent legal experience” in the Practice Rules, provided you have a total of 4,830 hours within the last 5 years (only counting up to a maximum of 40 hours per week), you will satisfy the requirement.

I have worked in New Zealand only for the last 2 years so do not meet the required 4,830 hours of recent legal experience in New Zealand. I have however worked in law firms overseas and in New Zealand prior to that. Can I apply to practise on my own account?

Yes. If you have less than 4,830 hours (counting up to a maximum of 40 hours per week) in the last 5 years you will not meet the criterion in r12(3) of the Practice Rules and will need to make an application under “special circumstances.” Your application will be assessed taking into account all relevant considerations including the amount of recent experience you have (that is in the last 5 years), as well as your total legal experience both in New Zealand and overseas.

I have been working part time (approximately 15-20 hours per week) for the last 10 years with several breaks to have children. Would I satisfy the minimum recent legal experience requirements?

The definition of “required minimum amount of recent legal experience” as set out in r3 of the Practice Rules only relates to legal experience in the last 5 years. You need to calculate the number of hours you have worked in the last 5 years. Twenty hours per week for 5 years is likely to meet the requirement of 4,830 hours in total. If you do not meet that criterion, you are able to apply under “special circumstances”.

Special Circumstances

I do not meet the experience criteria. Is it possible to apply to the Law Society for pre-approval setting out my special circumstances under Regulation 12A before completing the Stepping Up course?

There is no pre-approval process. In assessing applications for approval to practise on own account, including those made under special circumstances, the Law Society takes into account all relevant considerations at the time of the application. This includes the requirements under the Act and the Practice Rules, (which include the completion of the Stepping Up course under r12(4)) and the information contained in the references and obtained during the s30 interview.

Overseas legal experience may amount to special circumstances provided it is undertaken in a comparable jurisdiction, it is relevant to the areas of law you intend to practise in, and you have some recent legal experience in New Zealand.

You may contact the Secretary for the Practice Approval Committee via registry@lawsociety.org.nz to discuss your particular circumstances.

My New Zealand legal experience only relates to one area of law. Can my experience in other areas of law in another jurisdiction qualify as a special circumstance?

Overseas legal experience may amount to special circumstances provided it is undertaken in a comparable jurisdiction, it is relevant to the areas of law you intend to practise in, and you have at least some recent legal experience in New Zealand.

I am thinking of applying under special circumstances. What can be taken into account by the Law Society in that type of application?

What amounts to special circumstances is not specifically defined in the legislation. Each application is considered taking into account its own particular circumstances at the time of application. Under special circumstances the Practice Approval Committee can take into account the applicant’s total legal experience. It is not necessary that the applicant be working full time.

  • To determine if r12A applies the Practice Approval Committee must be satisfied-
  • That the applicant is experienced and competent in his/her intended areas of practice; and

That the applicant’s circumstances are “special” and override the New Zealand legal experience requirement in regulation 12(3), and under 12A permit him/her to practise on his/her own account.

The following are some of the relevant considerations –

  • The purposes of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006, including public protection and maintenance of public confidence in the profession;
  • The extent and nature of legal experience in his/her intended areas of practice (including the level of that experience);
  • Does the lawyer have on a wide view of the application sufficient legal experience?
  • The mode of practice;
  • Do other lawyers (particularly past/current employers) support his/her application?

Stepping Up and adequate instruction

I have completed Stepping Up. How long do I have before I need to be approved and commence practice on my own account?

You must commence practice on your own account in the approved manner within 2 years of attending the Stepping Up course. If you do not, you may be required to complete either the Topping Up Stepping Up (TUSU) course, or if you are outside the time allowed to complete TUSU, you will need to re-complete Stepping Up.

I was previously approved to practise on my own account, but due to a change in circumstances, I did not do so before my Stepping Up qualification lapsed. What do I need to do to commence practise on my own account?

If you did not commence practising on own account within two years of completing the Stepping Up course as required (see r12(4) and r14 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Practice Rules) Regulations 2008) you can undertake the refresher course – Topping Up Stepping Up (TUSU) within 3 years of your Stepping Up qualification expiring. TUSU is only available where you have done the original Stepping Up course, not the predecessor course Flying Start (prior to 1 October 2012). You would then apply to the Law Society to practice on your own account. If you are not eligible to complete TUSU due to time delay, you will need to complete the Stepping Up course in its entirety, and then apply to the Law Society for approval. For further information on TUSU see the NZ CLE Ltd website - http://www.lawyerseducation.co.nz/shop/Workshops+2017/17TUSTU.

I am a salaried partner and now wish to be an equity partner. Do I need to complete Stepping Up and complete the application approval process?

No, as a partner you would have been approved previously. A partner (whether salaried or equity), a director of an Incorporated Law Firm (Barrister and Solicitor) and a sole practitioner (Barrister and Solicitor) are all recognised as practising on your own account.

I was a partner in a New Zealand law firm 5 years ago, and then took a break to travel. I now wish to recommence practice on my own account as a sole practitioner. Do I need to complete Stepping Up and complete the application approval process?

Provided that you were approved to practise on own account by the Law Society and had commenced practising on own account, you may recommence practice on own account in the same mode (in this case, as a Barrister and Solicitor) within 10 years, without doing anything further under s31(2) of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 (the LCA).

I have been employed for the last 5 years and worked as a barrister sole prior to that. Is it necessary to do the stepping up course and apply to practice on my own account?

If you wish to be approved to practise on own account as a barrister and solicitor you will need to complete the Stepping Up course as required under s30 of the LCA and r12(4) of the Practice Rules.

If you wish to resume practice as a barrister sole you can do so, within 10 years of having last practised as a barrister sole, under s31(2)(b) of the LCA.

I am in practice in my own law firm in Australia. What do I need to do if I wish to move my practice to New Zealand?

Pursuant to r15 of the Practice Rules a person is to be treated as satisfying the requirements of r12 of the Practice Rules if he or she satisfies the Law Society that he or she is entitled to practise in an Australian jurisdiction, in a manner that is equivalent to practising on one's own account in New Zealand as a barrister and solicitor, or as a barrister sole.

For example, if you hold an unrestricted principal practising certificate in Australia (as a barrister and solicitor) you can apply for a practising certificate in New Zealand which enables you to practise as a barrister and solicitor on own account.

If you intend to be a sole practitioner (barrister and solicitor), you will need to appoint an attorney and an alternate to step into your practice should you not be able to conduct the practice yourself. These people must be in practice in the same manner that you intend to practise in. Refer to s44 of the LCA.

Please note that there is no equivalency for trust account qualifications. Therefore, if you wish to practice in New Zealand with a trust account, you will need to complete the Trust Account Supervisors course provided by NZLS CLE Ltd.

Can I lodge my application to practise on my own account before successfully completing Stepping Up?

It is not recommended as certain parts of the process, for example the interview, do not take place until you have successfully completed the Stepping Up course. If you were unsuccessful in completing Stepping Up and had to repeat some modules of the course, your application and references may become stale (they are valid for 3 months) and you would be required to submit a new application fee.

You may start preparing your application prior to completing the Stepping Up course, for example, think about who your referees will be and prepare a business plan and your CV, so that you are ready to submit your application as soon as the course is successfully completed. You do not need to wait for the completion certificate to be issued.

Suitability

I want to be employed as in-house counsel at the same time as practising on my own account. Can I do that?

Yes, provided that you practise on own account as a barrister and solicitor rather than as a barrister. You cannot hold a practising certificate as both a barrister and solicitor and a barrister at the same time.

I want to work as a contractor (as in-house counsel or in a law firm). Can I do that?

Yes. If you want to work as a contractor/consultant under a contract for services (that is, not under an employment contract) you must be approved to practice on your own account.

You would need to set up as a sole practitioner (barrister and solicitor rather than as a barrister as you cannot hold a practising certificate as both a barrister and solicitor and a barrister at the same time). You can contract to the law firm, as well as having your own clients through your sole practice. Care would need to be taken in relation to potential conflicts of interest.

Can I be a locum lawyer when I am not entitled to practise on my own account?

Unless you are employed under a contract of service (i.e., an employment contract) you are required to be approved to practise on own account to be a locum lawyer. Further information about applying to be on the Locum Panel is available at - http://www.lawsociety.org.nz/about-nzls/law-society-services/locum-panel.

I have an open complaint. Will this affect my application?

It would depend on the nature of the complaint, its level of seriousness and whether it is relevant to your application. You may wish to provide your comments addressing any relevant matters. You will be provided with an opportunity to comment regarding any concerns in relation to your application. If the Law Society has concerns regarding your application, it may be referred to the Practice Approval Committee once you have been interviewed. Please note that you may be questioned regarding concerns raised in this manner at the interview.

I have a history of complaints. Will this affect my application?

It would depend on the nature of the complaints, its level of seriousness, the outcomes and whether it is relevant to your application. You may wish to provide your comments addressing any relevant matters. For example, if the complaints reflect a possible pattern of communication delay, you may want to provide your comments regarding how you will ensure in your practice that this does not occur. You will be provided with an opportunity to comment regarding any concerns in relation to your application. If the Law Society has concerns regarding your application, it may be referred to the Practice Approval Committee once you have been interviewed. Please note that you may be questioned regarding concerns raised in this manner at the interview.

I note that you will advertise my name to the profession. What happens if an objection is received or a referee does not support my application?

If an objection is received or if any concerns are raised by a referee, you will be provided with an opportunity to comment regarding any concerns raised. If the Law Society has concerns regarding your application, it may be referred to the Practice Approval Committee once you have been interviewed. Please note that you may be questioned regarding concerns raised in this manner at the interview.

The Interview

I have applied to practise on my own account and note that I will need to attend an interview. What does the interview include and do I need to do any particular studies?

The interview is conducted by a Law Society panel of two and usually takes about an hour. The content of the interview generally includes questions:

  • About your intended practice including your business plan.
  • Regarding the trust accounting requirements in certain practical scenarios / or what you can and can’t do without running a trust account.
  • Relating to the conduct and client care rules for lawyers.

The interviewers will also discuss with you:

  • Issues relevant to your intended mode of practice (eg sole practice/partnership/directorship etc).
  • The role of the New Zealand Law Society and how it can assist you in practice.

You are welcome to bring along any material (such as a copy of your intended client care information) if you think this could be helpful.

S31(3)

I practised on my own account outside of the last 10 years and wish to recommence in that mode. What do I need to do?

If you wish to recommence practice as a barrister sole or a barrister and solicitor and it has been more than 10 years since you last practised in that manner, under s31(3) of the LCA you would need to satisfy the Law Society that you had received “adequate instruction” in the duties of that mode of practice, which may entail completing the Stepping Up course. You may wish to include a letter with your application outlining how you have stayed up to date with any changes in the areas of law that you wish to practice in.

Last updated on the 22nd May 2017