How To Start A Law Firm In Australia: Just like it is in every other businesses, starting up a law firm in Australia can be quite challenging. It demands financial and various procedural commitments, and there is need to be very strategic with the entire process. First, to be able to start a law firm in Australia, the starter must be a lawyer licensed to practice law in Australia. Get this clear- it is not enough that the starter is a lawyer. He has to be licensed to practice in Australia. It means that even as a lawyer or licensed legal practitioner in a foreign country, further demands must still met fulfilled to qualify as an attorney in Australia.
Becoming a licensed legal practitioner in Australia has academic demands that must be met. Similar demands are applicable to both national and foreign candidates. This discourse shall be segmented thus: how to become a lawyer in Australia, entitlements of becoming a lawyer in Australia, and how to start up a law firm in Australia.
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Becoming a lawyer in Australia
Below are the preconditions to be licensed as a lawyer in Australia:
1. Obtain a law degree (LLB or JD): Unlike in America where candidates must have acquired a first degree before pursuing a career in law, same is not applicable in Australia. In Australia, law can be studied as a first degree. To qualify for the next demand therefore, one must have obtained an LLB or JD from an accredited Australian university. The study takes about three to four academic years on a full-time program.
2. Practical Legal Training (PLT): Having obtained a law degree from an accredited university, the next requirement is to take the Practical Legal Training study. As implied from the title, the training is all about the practical insights needed in the legal practice. This program can be undertaken in any institution in Australia that is licensed to offer the program. The program can be offered either via on-campus, online program or both.
3. Apply to be admitted into the legal profession: Having fulfilled the foregoing demands, one then becomes eligible to apply for admission into the legal profession. The application is to be made to the state one intends to practice through the designated authority in that state. The demands of the various states may vary. So, it is best to determine what is obtainable in your state of preference. Each state has the authority designated for the purpose of admission into the legal profession. Upon the application, the necessary requirements will be demanded, coupled with the payment of prescribed fees.
4. Provision of character reference: The legal profession is not only interested in the fact that the candidate has fulfilled the academic requirements. There is further need to satisfy the demands of character. The legal profession in Australia places so much value on ethics. In this regard, the designated body, usually the Legal Profession Admission Board, demands a character reference from the candidates. Any dispute as to a candidate’s character may jeopardize his chances of being admitted into the legal profession.
5. Legal tutelage/traineeship: Having been admitted into the legal profession, it is further required that the new attorneys work under the supervision of the seniors who have acquired experiences from their long time practice of the profession. The period of which the traineeship lasts vary according to states.
6. Continuing Legal Development: The regulatory bodies of the legal profession require the lawyers to participate in the continuing legal development programs which are offered from time to time. The purpose of the program is of course to advance the skills and knowledge of the lawyers.
Entitlements of becoming a lawyer in Australia
The legal profession is a one of guaranteed rights and privileges. In Australia, a lawyer has the right of audience in courts or tribunals. Having been admitted into the legal profession, he is issued with a practising certificate. The certificate entitles him to the membership of the law society in Australia. He can represent himself and others in any dispute arising which has been brought before the court for adjudication. Only lawyers are entitled to this right.
A lawyer is entitled to privileged communications from his clients, and he is not to disclose them, except in certain circumstance as may be required by the state or any extant law. It follows therefore that conversations had with a lawyer in the course of his services to a client are confidential. The lawyer is not to disclose them even in a legal proceeding unless the client consents. In all, he is entitled to start up a law firm where he can offer various legal services to clients.
Starting a law firm in Australia
It is already seen that only licensed practitioners can start up a law firm in Australia. It is a criminal offence for someone who is not a lawyer to pose as one by opening a law firm. It flows that to start a law firm, one must have fulfilled all the academic and procedural requirements as were discussed in the first segment of this article.
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How to start a law firm in Australia
1. Financial requirements and funding strategy: A lot of money is needed to set up a law firm. The money is to be invested in fulfilling infrastructural and procedural demands. Therefore, there is need to have a financial management plan, know how to generate capital for the start, and how to sustain the firm. At this stage, the starter determines whether he cares for a partnership investment, credit facilities and so on. The financial management strategy should be drawn to cover the anticipated tax payments and other possible expenditures.
2. Development of business plan: Of course this is not a compulsory measure but it is most advisable. Offering of legal services is of course a business, and as such, business plan is needed. There is need to define the scope of the business by ascertaining the extent of services offered. There is need to examine the market space and have a target client measures put in place.
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3. The legal status of the firm: Amidst all the preparations, there is paramount need to determine the type of legal structure the firm should wear. The starter should decide whether he wants to run the firm as sole proprietorship, partnership or as corporation. It is important to know that the legal status chosen for the firm has legal implications that are peculiar to them such as mode of taxation, degree of interest, rights and liabilities, and so on. So, it is best to do a proper study of their implications.
4. Registration and licence: Of course, it is expected that the practitioners of the firm are licensed by the appropriate authority. There may be further need to register the business with the relevant commission and obtain business number.
5. Office acquisition and arrangement: Operating a law firm needs offices. The starter therefore is expected to secure an office with enough rooms for proper office-keeping and designations such as library, attorney’s offices, and so on. There is need to equip the office with the relevant amenities.
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6. Recruitment of staff: Staff are needed to help in the rendering of services in the office. Staff such as lawyers, secretaries, paralegals, utility officers, and so on, will contribute to the smooth running of the firm.
7. Tax payment: Set up the required medium for the payment of tax, and then ensure to pay taxes as and when due.
8. Get an insurance cover for your firm: The firm being a business is exposed to various risks. There is need to insure against the anticipated risks and comply with the terms of the policy.
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These are the basic and general procedure on starting a law firm in Australia. It is further recommended to study the regulations applicable in the various states in Australia, as the demands do vary according to states.
Edeh Samuel Chukwuemeka, ACMC, is a lawyer and a certified mediator/conciliator in Nigeria. He is also a developer with knowledge in various programming languages. Samuel is determined to leverage his skills in technology, SEO, and legal practice to revolutionize the legal profession worldwide by creating web and mobile applications that simplify legal research. Sam is also passionate about educating and providing valuable information to people.