New Zealand Law Society

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Frequently Asked Questions

Once I’ve been admitted to the bar, can I set up in practice by myself?

No. The New Zealand Law Society must be satisfied that you are a suitable person to have control of a legal practice, or to be “practising on own account” as it is called.

You must be qualified to practise on own account if you:

  • Wish to operate as a sole practitioner with or without a trust account;
  • Wish to practise as a barrister (other than as an employee of a barrister);
  • Wish to become a partner in a law firm;
  • Wish to become a director or shareholder of an incorporated law firm;
  • Wish to enter into a contract for services with a non-lawyer; or
  • Are a consultant and wish to provide regulated legal services by way of a contract for services.

So, how long before I can practise on own account?

There are several areas where the Law Society must be satisfied that you are a suitable person to practise on own account. These include your legal experience, how you intend to practise on own account, the fields of law in which you intend to practise, and other relevant matters.

As far as experience goes, you must have had three years’ full time legal experience in New Zealand during the five years immediately before commencing practice on own account. There is some discretion available to the Law Society in relation to length of time of legal experience. “Legal experience” which qualifies is as follows:

  • Legal work on the office of a lawyer in sole practice, a partnership of lawyers, or an incorporated law firm;
  • Legal work in the office of a barrister sole;
  • Legal work in a State service;
  • Legal work in a local authority;
  • Legal work as an employee of a company or other body;
  • Full-time law teaching in a university; or
  • As a Member of Parliament.

Pre-admission legal experience may be counted in certain circumstances.

You must also provide the Law Society with details of how you intend to practise on own account (eg, in sole practice, as a barrister, as a partner in a law firm), and you must provide information on the fields of law in which you intend to practise and details of your ability to do so (eg, your resume or letters of reference).

You must also complete a Stepping Up course, which is run by NZLS CLE Ltd.

If you intend to be a sole practitioner with a trust account, or the trust account partner of a law firm, you will also need to complete the Trust Account Supervisor training programme.

If you have done all this, you may apply to practise on own account. Applications need to be made on the special application form and you also need to provide a referee report. Applications are sent to the nearest New Zealand Law Society branch, which will process it and make a recommendation.

Does the law firm I work for have to pay the fee for my practising certificate?

No. It is not compulsory for your firm to pay your practising fee. This is part of your conditions of employment and you should discuss it with your employer.

Can I hold practising certificates both as a barrister and as a barrister and solicitor?

No. You can only hold one type of practising certificate at a time. See section 39(1) of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006.

I’ve been admitted to the bar in New Zealand, but I don’t hold a current practising certificate. What work can I do?

Generally speaking, it is an offence to provide legal services in New Zealand and describe yourself as a lawyer, a law practitioner, a legal practitioner, a barrister, a solicitor, a barrister and solicitor, an attorney-at-law, or as counsel (section 21(1) of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006).

There are limited exceptions. For instance, under section 25(2) a foreign lawyer may describe themselves as such, subject to certain constraints. And section 27 sets out what people without practising certificates may do in relation to representing themselves, appearing as an advocate or representative before courts or tribunals where that is allowed or required, assisting litigants in person while working in a community law centre, filling out court forms etc.

Provided you don’t use any of the titles restricted by section 21 of the Act (see above), you can provide legal services in New Zealand – but not in the reserved areas of work. Those reserved areas are defined in section 6 of the Act. They include giving legal advice in relation to the direction or management of any contemplated or actual proceedings before a New Zealand court or tribunal; appearing as an advocate for, or representing, any person in such proceedings; and giving legal advice or carrying out any action that is required by any provision of any enactment to be carried out by a lawyer.

In short, you can’t do any legal work in the reserved areas of work at all and call yourself a lawyer (or any of the other restricted titles) if you don’t hold a current practising certificate. But you could do non-reserved legal work under an unrestricted title (eg “legal officer”) without a practising certificate.

If you are an enrolled barrister and solicitor not holding a current practising certificate you may also carry out any function which it is open, by statute, for an enrolled barrister and solicitor to provide. An example is section 9 of the Oaths and Declarations Act, which provides that an enrolled barrister and solicitor may take statutory declarations.

If undertaking such a function when you are enrolled but without a practising certificate you should take care to describe yourself in a way that will not be in breach of section 21 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006. One suitable formula might be “Enrolled as a barrister and solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand”.

I’ve done a professional legal studies course (“profs”), but want to go overseas for a few years before I get admitted to the bar in New Zealand. Is there any time limit?

Yes. The New Zealand Council of Legal Education issues a completion certificate to show you have passed the profs course. This completion certificate is valid for three calendar years from the date of issue. If you haven’t been admitted to the bar within this period, the Council has a discretion to require you to complete further training. This could include a requirement to complete the profs course again (see regulation 11, Professional Examinations in Law Regulations 2008).

I completed my LLB several years ago and now want to do a professional legal studies course. Is there any time limit for this?

Yes. When the New Zealand Council of Legal Education looks at your application for a completion certificate, it will check the age of your LLB or law degree. If this is more than 10 years old at the time of application, the Council has the power to require further study or training before granting a completion certificate.

Last updated on the 28th July 2016