The Legal Profession Uniform Law creating a common legal services market across New South Wales and Victoria comes into operation on 1 July 2015, bringing with it changes to admission and practising certificates for in-house lawyers.
The key message is that all in-house lawyers will need to be admitted to the profession and maintain a practising certificate. But the good news is that there are exemptions and grace periods to give a more relaxed transition to the new regime for those who are either not admitted or do not currently hold a practising certificate.
Other changes introduced by the new regulatory reform package include legal costs disclosure and trust accounting.
Government in-house lawyers
The most significant exemption is for government in-house lawyers.
If you are a government in-house lawyer employed as a government lawyer (including employed by the Crown) in the 12 months before 1 July 2015, and have never been admitted, you will be permanently exempt from any requirement to be admitted, and thus will not need a practising certificate, but only while employed as a government in-house lawyer.
If however you are a government lawyer who is admitted as at 30 June 2015, you will need a practising certificate, even if you have never held one before, but you will have two years from 1 July 2015 to get one. Note : In Victoria, a new category of practising certificate called "Government Practising Certificate" will be available after 1 July; Victorian government lawyers who need to obtain or maintain a practising certificate will be eligible to apply for this.
Corporate in-house lawyers
Corporate lawyers who are employed in-house but are not admitted will have a three-year grace period from 1 July 2015 to get admitted.
In addition (and as with government in-house lawyers) there is also a two-year grace period effective from 1 July 2015 for admitted corporate in-house lawyers to obtain their practising certificates.
Newly appointed corporate and government in-house lawyers employed from 1 July 2015
Similar transitionary arrangements apply to new in-house lawyers employed in the three years after 1 July 2015 – they too will have up to three years to be admitted and obtain a practising certificate.
After 1 July 2018, all new lawyers employed in-house will need to be admitted and obtain a practising certificate.
Supervised legal practice and unrestricted practising certificates – more good news
There is full credit given to any period of legal practice (supervised or not) served prior to 1 July 2015 for both corporate and government employed lawyers. This will count towards (and in many cases, be fully substituted for) the statutory period of supervised practice that would otherwise be required after 1 July 2015 to obtain an unrestricted practising certificate.
Both government and corporate newly appointed lawyers employed after 1 July 2015 will need to serve the full term of supervised legal practice unless they seek a discretionary exemption under the Uniform Law. We expect this exemption will be extended to practitioners with overseas qualifications employed in-house after 1 July 2015 but not yet admitted in Australia.
Notifying the regulators and Admissions Boards about exemptions or grace periods
Government lawyers seeking permanent exemption from admission will need to serve notice on the Admissions Board within 12 months. Similarly, for unadmitted corporate in-house lawyers, notice seeking a three year grace period must be given to the Admissions Board within 12 months.
An in-house lawyer seeking any other transitional exemptions or to use a grace period must give notice to the NSW Law Society or the Law Institute of Victoria within six months, detailing the exemption or grace period they are seeking and their entitlement to it.