VLSB+C Office Closure
Due to the impact of the COVID-19 virus, we have made the decision to close our office to the public until further notice, effective Monday 23 March. The health and safety of our workforce, as well as the wider community, is our highest priority. Many of our staff will be working from home, and other than for high priority issues, we will not be accepting external visitors to the office until further notice.
For the latest information on the COVID-19 disease in Victoria, visit the Department of Health and Human Services website.
Translated information about COVID-19 for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, health professionals and industry is available on a dedicated page on the Department of Health and Human Services website here. Information includes fact sheets and promotional materials.
What this means for you
My team and I are committed to doing all we can to ensure that Victorian lawyers are able to continue to practise during this difficult time.
Our teams will still be available to take your queries, however we ask that you email these to us at firstname.lastname@example.org instead of phoning the office. Our staff will be better able to prioritise your query and respond more quickly via this process.
Practising certificate renewals
Practising certificate renewals will still occur from 30 March. I understand that this may be difficult for you to finalise if you’re not working in your office. If you can renew early (that is, as soon as possible after 30 March), please do this. We won’t be applying the surcharge for late renewals unless your application is submitted after 30 June. It’s important to note that if you submit your application after 30 June, your PC will be expired and you will be unable to practice. In this case, you will need to apply for a new certificate (rather than a renewal of your existing certificate) and pay the 200% surcharge.
The disruption associated with responding to COVID-19 may mean it will take us longer to process some renewal applications. If we haven’t responded to your application or sent you a certificate, please be patient. We are doing our best.
Changes to rules, regulations and processes
We are removing the requirement to complete CPD via face-to-face methods. Detail about this is available on our website.
External examiners will be completing many of their trust account examinations remotely or via ‘virtual’ examinations. Your external examiner will contact you to discuss how this might work for you. If there are problems with being able to complete these by 31 May we encourage you to email our Regulatory Compliance Programs team at email@example.com.
Please remember that the usual rules and guidelines still apply. When business as usual activities recommence, we will be resuming face-to-face examinations and practice compliance audits.
If you cannot meet with your clients and need to take instructions
We know that there may be times when you will need to take instructions from clients over the phone, as it will not be possible to meet face-to-face. In these circumstances, you still need to assure yourself that you are receiving valid instructions.
We expect you to ask questions of your client to ensure they aren’t being unduly influenced by a third party. We also expect you to take extensive files notes of all conversations. If there are language barriers, please make sure you organise an interpreter to assist you. Finally, please remember that if you are uncomfortable about your client’s capacity to give you valid instructions for any reason, you may need to decline to act for them. Whatever decision you make, ensure you document the considerations you made and the reasons for your decision.
If you are impacted by COVID-19
These are stressful and uncertain times. Some of you may need to close your practices, or work from home. Courts are making changes to the way they operate. Many of you are small businesses, and you may face cash flow issues, or struggle with the administration burden of working and managing your staff remotely.
In our last PC renewal, only 5% of sole practitioners and sole legal directors reported having a contingency plan in place for the management of their practice, should they become unable to do so. I strongly encourage you to do this if you haven’t already. In particular, please consider what safeguards you can put in place in case you need to self-isolate or are unwell, for example by identifying a legal practitioner who can help run your practice. Please note that if you cannot run your practice due to ill health, or for some other compelling reason, and do not have a contingency plan, you must contact us. We will need to consider available options, which may include a formal External Intervention, being the appointment of a Manager, to keep your practice operating.
We face many challenges, and I would like to reassure you that we are here to help. Contact us if you’re facing difficulties with your practice and, in particular, if you feel that you are unable to continue to practise.
My staff and I are working closely with the LIV, the Vic Bar and the LPLC to coordinate our activities and support to the profession. The LIV has a range of resources that you can access on their website which are designed to assist lawyers manage through this period. I encourage you to use these. These are available for members and non-members.
Finally, please be kind to each other, my team and yourselves. Many people are feeling anxious and uncertain. We are all in this together as a legal community. I am confident that the legal profession is up to playing its role in responding to the unique challenge that we are facing.
Board CEO + Commissioner