How New Uniform Laws are Impacting In-House Counsel

What changes do in-house counsel need to make to ensure they’re compliant with the new uniform laws?

A few months ago, we considered the key changes that would impact private practitioners as a result of the Legal Profession Uniform Law commencing in Victoria and New South Wales on 1 July 2015.

Now, we turn our attention to in-house counsel. How will the new framework impact their work? What rules do they need to be across? And how can they update their processes to ensure they comply?

Lawyers across New South Wales and Victoria are shifting their practice into alignment with the new legal regime governing the profession, and those employed in in-house roles are not immune to the changes.

Several significant alterations have been made to registration requirements for lawyers working in in-house and government roles, so counsel must familiarise themselves with the new procedures, educate their employers and update relevant processes to ensure they remain compliant with their professional regulations.

What features of the new regime should corporate in-house counsel know about?

1. Admission

All corporate, in-house and government lawyers must now be admitted to practice. However, a three-year transitional exemption (expiring 30 June 2018) will apply to any lawyers currently employed as corporate counsel, as well as anyone who commences work in this capacity during the transitional period.

2. Practising certificates

Admitted lawyers working in government or in-house roles must now hold a current practising certificate. Those affected by this change will have until 30 June 2017 to obtain their practising certificate. The two-year transitional period will also apply to those who commence work during it.

3. Jurisdictional crossover

While admission and practising certificates will now be compulsory for corporate counsel, the uniform requirements will enable easier transitions for lawyers moving interstate and between private, public and in-house roles.

4. Fidelity fund

Notwithstanding the new admission and practising certificate requirements, corporate and government lawyers are not required to contribute to the fidelity fund.

5. Professional indemnity cover

Government and corporate lawyers will remain exempt from the requirement for professional indemnity insurance, unless they are involved in community, volunteer or pro-bono legal work.

What measures should in-house counsel take to ensure compliance with the new rules?

  • Make a date with your human resources manager to study new practising certificate and admission requirements, including the transitional provisions.
  • Conduct a review of the credentials of all your professional legal staff to determine whether any need to become admitted, or apply for a practising certificate.
  • Ensure that any employees seeking to avail themselves of the exemption period give notice to the relevant body within the prescribed time limits.
  • Diarise a further review toward the end of each exemption period to ensure all employees are compliant with the new rules.

The new conditions placed on in-house counsel will require many to upgrade their qualifications, however the generous time periods that have been provided for transition will ensure this will not unduly burden practitioners, and will ultimately benefit the whole profession in terms of uniformity.

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