Becoming a lawyer
You're now one in 14,000...
Just over 14,000 New Zealanders hold practising certificates which allow them to practise as lawyers. There are also other New Zealanders with legal qualifications and who have been admitted to the roll of Barristers and Solicitors of the High Court who provide legal advice to their employer or who are involved in legal education.
Information collected by the New Zealand Law Society shows that at 1 February 2019:
- There were 14,333 practising certificates on issue. Of those holding a New Zealand practising certificate, 13,530 (95%) were resident in New Zealand.
- Of all lawyers with practising certificates, 51% were female and 49% were male.
- There were 12,747 lawyers practising as barristers and solicitors (89% of total) and 1,586 practising as barristers sole.
- 3,423 lawyers (24%) were employed as in-house lawyers;
- 2,704 lawyers (21%) had been admitted as barristers and solicitors of the High Court for less than 5 years. Of these, 61% were female and 39% were male.
- New Zealand had 2,019 law firms in which 67% of all lawyers worked. Of the firms, 783 (39% of all firms) were sole practices (meaning they had just one lawyer) and 86% of all law firms had 5 or fewer lawyers. Just over 20% of lawyers working for a law firm worked for the 10 biggest firms.
- The average age of a New Zealand male lawyer was 46 years, and the average female lawyer age was 39 years and 4 months.
- While many lawyers specialise in more than one area of the law, 48% do some work in company and commercial law, 41% in property law, 36% in civil litigation and 36% in trusts and estates. Of all lawyers, 15% spend over half their time working in company and commercial law, 15% in property law, 11% in civil litigation and 10% in family law.
- Statistics New Zealand estimates the value of legal services supplied by lawyers in New Zealand to be around $3.464 billion annually.
More detailed information is available in our Snapshot of the Profession.
Who is a "lawyer"?
A lawyer is a person who holds a current practising certificate issued by the New Zealand Law Society. Lawyers practise either as a barrister and solicitor or as a barrister (sometimes called a "barrister sole").
Anyone providing certain legal services who describes themselves as a "lawyer", a "barrister", or a "barrister and solicitor" but who doesn't hold a current practising certificate commits an offence against the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 ("the LCA").
If you have been admitted as a barrister and solicitor but do not hold a current practising certificate, you may refer to yourself as an "enrolled barrister and solicitor of the High Court".
The LCA outlines a number of areas and activities which can only be carried out by lawyers and are therefore regulated (see section 6). Services which are regulated include:
- advice in relation to any legal or equitable rights or obligations;
- preparing or reviewing documents that create or evidence legal or equitable rights or obligations;
- preparing or reviewing documents that create, vary, transfer, mortgage or charge any legal or equitable title in any property;
- legal advice given to any other person in relation to the direction or management of any proceedings that the other person is considering bringing, has decided to bring, is a party to, or is likely to become a party to before any New Zealand court or tribunal;
- appearing as an advocate for any other person before any New Zealand court or tribunal*;
- representing any other person before any New Zealand court or tribunal; and
- giving legal advice or carrying out actions under any enactment required to be carried out by a lawyer, including section 21F of the Property (Relationships) Act 1976.
*Note that in certain circumstances in some specialist fields, such as employment or accident compensation, people without a practising certificate may act as advocates.
Who regulates lawyers?
The Lawyers and Conveyancers Act came into force on 1 August 2008. It gives the New Zealand Law Society the responsibility of regulating the legal profession. This includes ensuring lawyers meet the high professional standards required of them and ensuring that all lawyers practise in accordance with the law. Regulation of lawyers must be within the context of ensuring the purposes of the Act are met:
- to maintain public confidence in the provision of legal services;
- to protect the consumers of legal services;
- to recognise the status of the legal profession.
The Act sets out some fundamental obligations for New Zealand lawyers. These are:
- to uphold the rule of law and to facilitate the administration of justice;
- to be independent in providing regulated services to their clients;
- to act in accordance with all fiduciary duties and duties of care owed by lawyers to their clients; and
- to protect the interests of their clients, subject to their overriding duties as an officer of the High Court and their duties under any legislation.
The Law Society is required to administer rules which outline the way in which lawyers must act in providing legal services and dealing with their clients. These are called the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008 ("the Conduct and Client Care Rules"). Every lawyer is expected to be familiar with these rules.
The Law Society also operates the Lawyers Complaints Service. This establishes procedures and systems for managing complaints by clients and others when they believe their lawyer has failed to meet the required standards.
Operating a law practice in New Zealand
Once you have been admitted as a barrister and solicitor you are not able to immediately set up practice on your own. There are rules governing the experience required by lawyers who have a direct say in the conduct or operation of any legal practice.
If you want to do any of the following, you must be qualified to practise "on own account":
- to operate as a sole practitioner with or without a trust account;
- to operate as a barrister (not as the employee of another barrister);
- to become a partner in a law firm;
- to become a director or voting shareholder of an incorporated law firm;
- as an in-house lawyer you want to enter into a contract for services with a non lawyer; or
- as a consultant you wish to provide regular regulated legal services by way of a contract for services.
As regulator of the legal profession, the Law Society must be satisfied that anyone wanting to practise on own account is qualified to do so. The decision takes into account your legal experience, how you intend to practise, the fields of law in which you will practise, and any other relevant matters.
Anyone wanting to practice on own account must have 3 years' fulltime legal experience in New Zealand during the 5 years before they commence practice on own account. They are also required to complete a Stepping Up course within the past two years. The Stepping Up course comprises 40-50 hours of self-directed learning, followed by a two and a half day workshop. Anyone intending to be a sole practitioner with a trust account must also complete the New Zealand Law Society Trust Account Supervisor training programme. Find out more.
Getting admitted as a barrister and solicitor
The fact that you're reading this guide means you are either through or well on the way through most of the steps required to becoming a lawyer.
To practise as, or to call yourself, a New Zealand lawyer, you must:
- complete a Bachelor of Laws degree (LLB) approved by the New Zealand Council of Legal Education;
- complete the Professional Legal Studies Course at either the Institute of Professional Legal Studies or the College of Law;
- obtain a completion certificate from the New Zealand Council of Legal Education;
- obtain a certificate of character from the Law Society;
- be admitted to the roll of Barristers and Solicitors of the High Court of New Zealand; and
- hold a current practising certificate issued by the Law Society.
These are the requirements for law graduates of New Zealand universities. There are special requirements for law graduates from other countries.
An application for admission must be filed in the High Court.
Is there a time limit?
The education and qualification needed by New Zealand lawyers are overseen by the New Zealand Council of Legal Education. The main requirements are set out in the Professional Examinations in Law Regulations 2008.
A completion certificate from the Council after completion of a professional legal studies course remains valid for 3 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, which could include a requirement to complete the professional legal studies course again (reg 11, Professional Examinations in Law Regulations 2008).
The Council will also check the age of your LLB or law degree when you apply for a certificate of completion. If this is more than 10 years old at the time of application, the Council has the power to require further study or training.
Time taken for parts of the admission process
While times vary, the following table is provided as a guide to a "normal" progression through the steps required to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand.
Obtain academic transcript from university (varies between university)
4 to 14 working days
Obtain certificate of completion from New Zealand Council of Legal Education
40 working days
Obtain certificate of character from New Zealand Law Society
Up to 3 months
File application for admission if hearing is to be at hearing in court
Obtaining a completion certificate
The completion certificate is issued by the New Zealand Council of Legal Education. You should apply for this as soon as possible. When you have completed your professional legal studies course, you will receive a letter confirming that you have passed the course. You are then able to apply for the completion certificate. Forms and details are given at www.nzcle.org.nz/nz_law_graduates.html.
Obtaining a certificate of character
As part of the process of getting admitted to the High Court as an enrolled barrister and solicitor, you need to obtain a certificate of character from the Law Society. This certifies that you are a "fit and proper person" to be admitted as a barrister and solicitor.
You apply to any Law Society branch for a certificate of character. Normally it will take about 3 months for your request to be processed, investigated and completed. However, you should allow 4 months if you have a criminal conviction, have ever been adjudicated bankrupt, or if there is some other matter which might be relevant (such as having appeared before a disciplinary body of a university in New Zealand or overseas or having been convicted of an offence overseas).
You must pay a fee to the Law Society when you apply for a certificate of character. A copy of the receipt you receive must be attached to the affidavit which will accompany your application for admission.
The importance of disclosing all details
A criminal conviction, bankruptcy or other factors do not automatically mean that you will not be granted a certificate of character. Every case has its own unique circumstances and these are taken into account. However, if you deliberately do not disclose any of these details, you are showing that you may not be a fit and proper person. If this failure to disclose emerges in the future you may find you are jeopardising your whole legal career.
Detail of criminal convictions
You will be required to complete the relevant sections of the Request for a criminal conviction history by a third party form. Please note this form is specific to the Law Society and must be used. If you have a conviction, please ensure that your referees are aware and comment on these in any reference supplied. Please also provide the police summary and the Court sentencing notes, (if available) along with an explanation in your own words.
Note that the Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act 2004 confers certain rights on all New Zealanders regarding certain criminal convictions. You are not expected to give up these rights and to disclose information which you are protected from giving by the Act.
The partially completed form should be provided to the Law Society branch where you intend making your application. Branch staff will complete the third party details and send it to the Ministry of Justice with a request that they provide the information directly to the Law Society as soon as possible.
If you have a current conviction, please provide the form along with your application for a certificate of character to the branch as soon as applications open. Check the timeline on the Law Society website.
Information from the Official Assignee
If you have ever been adjudicated bankrupt you must ask the Official Assignee to provide an original of the bankruptcy notice and a Discharge of Bankruptcy (if applicable) directly to the Law Society branch where you are making your application. You will also be required to provide an explanation of the bankruptcy. The Law Society may request further information.
You are required to obtain a minimum of three referee reports, one of which must be from your employer (unless you have never been in permanent employment). These reports must be completed on the form provided. Members of your family may not act as referees, nor university lecturers or tutors (unless they are acquainted with you or your family outside the university or have been your employer).
What the Law Society does
The Law Society branch where you apply will make inquiries from the tertiary institutions where you have studied, as well as the director of the professional training institute from which you completed the Professional Legal Studies course.
The branch also has the discretion to advertise your name in media. Applications are always advertised in LawPoints, the Law Society's weekly e-newsletter. The advertisement gives the full name of everyone who has applied for a certificate of character and the appropriate legislative provision. This is followed by the statement: "Comments concerning the suitability of any of the above-named applicants for the certificate or approval being sought should be made in writing to me by [deadline]. Any submissions should be given on the understanding that they may be disclosed to the candidate. Any person wishing to comment on your conduct and fitness may do so directly to the Law Society Registry manager or the branch within the time specified."
Refusal of certificate of character
If the Law Society branch feels it might decline to issue you with a certificate of character, it will refer your application to the Law Society's Practice Approval Committee. You will be advised of this and how the process will be managed from this point forward.
If you are refused a certificate of character, you may still apply to the High Court for admission. However, if your application for admission does not include a certificate of character, you must serve a copy on the Law Society within two days of filing your application in the High Court (see rule 6, Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers Admission ) Rules 2008). Within 21 days of receiving the copy of your application, the Law Society will serve on you a notice of opposition which states the grounds on which the application is opposed and includes any affidavits in support. The High Court will hear and determine your application.
Timeframes and issue of certificate of character
You are responsible for ensuring that all documentation is provided to the relevant Law Society branch office in time.
When all the documentation is complete and the relevant fee is paid, the branch will process your application and issue you (if successful) with a certificate of character. You should then file your certificate of character along with the other admission documents in the High Court. Check the admissions information for details.
A lawyer who holds a current practising certificate must move your admission to the bar. If you do not know anyone who will do this, contact the local New Zealand Law Society branch. The branch will be happy to arrange counsel to move your admission. Retired or non-practising lawyers may apply for a temporary practising certificate, and information on the requirements for this is available here.
Filing the paperwork
The form of the paperwork required for admission is specified in the Schedule to the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Admission) Rules 2008.
An application for admission must include an originating application made by the counsel who moves the admission (Form LA1).
The application must also include an affidavit in support, sworn by the candidate (Form LA2). If you are unsure how to arrange this, the local New Zealand Law Society branch will assist. The affidavit in support must have the following attached:
- a certificate of completion from the New Zealand Council of Legal Education;
- a certificate of character from the Law Society;
- a copy of the receipt for the admission fee from the Law Society (the fee payable to the Law Society for the application for a certificate of character).
The Law Society suggests that all applicants should seek to have the order for admission sealed (Form LA5). It is advisable to hold a copy for possible future use.
Wigs, gowns and other things for the Big Day
As well as being a court proceeding, the admission ceremony is a celebration. Family and friends are welcome to attend the court.
The local Law Society branch is closely involved with most admission ceremonies and is the place to inquire if you need to hire a wig and/or gown. Remember that you are actually appearing in a court proceeding, so you must dress as any lawyer would dress for an appearance in the High Court (see "Appearing in courts and tribunals").
What happens when you are admitted
On admission your name is entered on the roll of barristers and solicitors of the High Court. You are then able to describe yourself as "an enrolled barrister and solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand". You cannot describe yourself as a lawyer unless you hold a current practising certificate.
Obtaining a practising certificate
Practising certificates are issued by the Law Society's Registry. This is the department of the Law Society which maintains correct details of lawyers and issues practising certificates. Information on what is required can be found on the Practising Certificates page.
The Law Society maintains detailed records of all practising certificate holders. The certificate itself is an A5 card which states your full name and whether you are a barrister or a barrister and solicitor, the registration number you are allocated by the Registry, and the dates for which the certificate is current. The certificate is an official document and is evidence that you are the holder of a practising certificate.
The User ID on your practising certificate
Every practising certificate issued by the Law Society contains a unique User ID number. This comprises 6 digits and is printed on the top right-hand corner of the certificate. An accompanying letter will also advise you of your ID number.
Your ID number can be used to access the lawyers-only parts of the my.lawsociety website, which is maintained by the Law Society. This contains material and information designed to be of use to lawyers. On first use of your ID number you will need to establish a password.
You will also use your ID number if you want to renew your practising certificate (required every year). Renewal is now done online and you will need to log in.
The Register of Lawyers
As soon as you are issued with a practising certificate your name will be entered on the Register of Lawyers. The Law Society is required to maintain this public register through its website. The register can be searched using a lawyer's last, middle or first name.
The register must show:
- the lawyer's full name and contact details, including work address (both postal and physical), telephone number and fax number;
- the kind of practising certificate held and when it was issued;
- the date and place of admission as a barrister and solicitor;
- if the lawyer is in practice on his or her own account, whether he or she is in sole practice, partnership, a shareholder or director of an incorporated law firm;
- whether the lawyer is an employee;
- whether the lawyer is an in-house counsel;
- whether the lawyer is providing or intends to provide real estate services; and
- whether the lawyer's practising certificate is currently suspended and, if so, when the suspension took effect and when it will be lifted (if known).
While the Law Society is able to publish a lawyer's home address or home and other contact phone number (such as a mobile phone), this is optional and is not usually chosen by the lawyer. Work email addresses and mobile phone numbers can be shown, but this is also optional and you can advise if you do not want to show either of these details.
Updating details and notifying the Law Society
Lawyers must advise the Law Society of any changes to their details shown on the register or as otherwise required for the Law Society to carry out its regulatory functions. Firms must update their details as necessary. Lawyers should also notify the Law Society if and when they change their name (and provide supporting evidence). Quote your User ID number in any communications with the Registry.
All holders of a current practising certificate can go online to check that their current contact and employment details are correct. Personal contact and professional profile details can be updated online, but lawyers will need to contact the Registry to update employment details.
To update your details online you will need your User ID and password. If you need to confirm your login details contact the Law Society at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are various rules and regulations which require lawyers and/or firms to notify the Law Society when something occurs:
- regulation 11 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Practice Rules) Regulations 2008 requires every lawyer to advise the Law Society, as soon as practicable, if any of the information that the Law Society keeps on the register about that lawyer changes, so that the Law Society may fulfil its obligation to keep the register accurate and up-to-date;
- chapter 16.1 of the Conduct and Client Care Rules requires any lawyer intending to provide real estate services on a regular or systematic basis to notify the Law Society in writing, including the address(es) from which the real estate services are to be provided;
- regulation 16 of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Practice Rules) Regulations 2008 requires incorporated law firms to advise the Law Society of the firm's name, the names of its directors and shareholders, and any changes to those details; and
- section 318(1)(b) of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act requires a practitioner or an incorporated firm making an election under s 317(1) not to receive money or other valuable property, to deliver that election to the Law Society.
Notification forms can be downloaded from www.lawsociety.org.nz or are available on request from the Registry: call on 0800 22 30 30 or email at email@example.com. Completed forms can be mailed, emailed or faxed to the Registry.
New Zealand Law Society Registry contact details
Phone: 0800 22 30 30 (or +64 4 472 7837 if outside New Zealand)
Fax: +64 4 463 2989
Postal: PO Box 5041, Lambton Quay, Wellington 6145
Last updated on the 27th May 2019