As law firms seek to become more closely focused on the needs of their clients, they may consider offering services that are outside the ordinary business of a law practice. Examples of non-legal services provided can include:
- a general course of education for a person considering family law proceedings or estate planning
- education and information to help a divorcing couple to co-parent effectively or
- personal services such as parenting co-ordination, or counselling and life coaching.
Below you’ll find answers to commonly asked questions on this topic, to assist law practices who are considering offering non-legal services to their clients.
Yes. The Uniform Law and Rules permit a law practice to provide non-legal services. You must disclose to clients that such services are not legal services, and failure to make such a disclosure will mean that the services will be subject to the same duties and standard of care as apply to legal services.
All services offered by a law practice, legal and non-legal, are subject to the general consumer protection requirements of the Australian Consumer Law & Fair Trading Act 2012. This means that the services must be:
- provided with due care and skill
- fit for any specified purpose (express or implied)
- provided within a reasonable time (when no time is set).
Any non-legal professional services, such as counselling, will need to comply with the regulations and requirements attaching to those services, including licensing and registration.
Some dual registrations are not allowed. For example, a person can’t be registered as a migration agent or a licensed conveyancer at the same time they are registered as a lawyer. However, a migration agent and a conveyancer can go into business with a lawyer.
Some non-legal services cannot be offered by a law practice, for example managed investment schemes.
In all cases, the non-legal services can’t compromise the ethical standards of the law firm and must not involve any conflicts of interest.
‘Legal Services’ are defined under the Uniform Law as ‘work done or business transacted in the ordinary course of legal practice’. From the applicable case law, the term is broad but would at least involve:
- giving advice as to the applicable law and recommended actions to be taken in court or tribunal proceedings, in commercial transactions or in any other activity that alters the legal rights of parties;
- drafting and filing proceedings in litigation
- drawing wills and contracts.
Where any service is provided by a lawyer, whether within their firm or within another kind of commercial organisation, the scope of what falls within ‘legal services’ is broad and inclusive. A lawyer can’t avoid the regulatory regime simply by describing as ‘non-legal’ services that a reasonable person would ordinarily see as legal services.
Yes. Lay associates of a law practice can:
- Receive fees for the business of a law practice that is the business of an Australian legal practitioner
- Hold themselves out as lay associates of the law practice and
- Share in the receipts, revenue or other income of the law practice.
There are rules that outline how the law practice must be structured:
- an Incorporated Legal Practice can have lay (non-lawyer) directors but must have at least one authorised principal – that is, a director who is an Australian Legal practitioner who is not subject to a condition of supervised legal practice.
- an unincorporated legal practice may include members of the practice who are not legal practitioners.
- a law firm, which is a partnership of Australian legal practitioners (and may include an Australian registered foreign lawyer) can’t have non-legal partners.
Where a lawyer has an interest in a non-legal business that is operated ‘concurrently, but not directly in association, with the conduct of the solicitor’s legal practice’ they must avoid a conflict with the other business, disclose the relationship with the business and maintain separate files and records.
There are rules that outline who can be a lay associate. A disqualified person or a person found guilty of an indictable offence involving dishonesty can’t be a lay associate of a law practice of any type.
The Legal Practitioners' Liability Committee (LPLC) provides insurance for the legal services that a law practice provides, including promotional or marketing activities. However, this does not cover services that are clearly non-legal and professional liability insurance should be obtained from another insurer. Your broker may be able to assist you in this regard.
Any queries regarding insurance should be referred to the LPLC at email@example.com.
We deal with all complaints about the provision of legal services to clients and disciplinary conduct matters, which can occur during or outside of legal practice.
We aren’t able to deal with complaints about services that are non-legal in nature unless:
- the conduct would amount to a disciplinary breach, including common law misconduct
- the law practice did not make appropriate disclosure under s.107
- the services are provided by a lawyer and are reasonably characterised as legal services
- legal fees have been charged for non-legal services.
It would be helpful and appropriate to inform the client of other ways to resolve any dispute, including any formal channels that may be available, for example to Consumer Affairs Victoria or AHPRA. As a helpful resource for handling any kind of complaint internally, SOCAP provides this Small Business Complaint Toolkit.