Solicitors’ use of the Term "Principal" or "Partner"


10 Dec 2018

NOTICE TO PROFESSION
SOLICITORS’ USE OF THE TERM “PRINCIPAL” OR “PARTNER”
 
Pursuant to section 6(3) of the Legal Profession Act 2008 (LPA) a “principal” of a law practice is defined as an Australian legal practitioner who is:
 
(a) a sole practitioner (in the case of a law practice constituted by the practitioner); or
 
(b) a partner in the law practice (in the case of a law firm); or
 
(c) a legal practitioner director in the law practice (in the case of an incorporated legal practice); or
 
(d) a legal practitioner partner in the law practice (in the case of a multi disciplinary partnership).
 
The Legal Practice Board (Board) is of the view that the use of the terms “principal” or “partner” by a practitioner who is not a principal or partner of a law practice for the purposes of section 6(3) of the LPA, is prima facie misleading as it may give rise to a misapprehension on the part of clients, or the public, that the practitioner is the principal or partner of the law practice.
 
In the above circumstances, a practitioner should only use the name, title, or description of “principal” or “partner” if that practitioner is, by the definition under section 6(3) of the LPA, a principal or partner of the law practice.
 
In the event a law practice is using the term “principal” or “partner”, for a practitioner who does not fall within the definition of “principal” in section 6(3) of the LPA, the Board requests that the law practice:
 
(a) amend the name, title, or description used for the practitioner to ensure compliance with the LPA; or
 
(b) take steps to ensure that the use of the name, title, or description of “principal” or “partner” will not mislead clients or the public.
 
In relation to paragraph (b) above, as part of the steps taken, the law practice should ensure any marketing, website or signage properly qualifies any use of the name, and any client engaged is provided with an engagement letter prior to the provision of any legal services which prominently qualifies the use of the name.
 
It is noted however, that the Board, by setting out the steps in relation to paragraph (b) above, has made no determination as to whether use of the title “principal” or “partner”, with any disclaimer, will ensure the public, or the courts, are not misled and is without prejudice to, and does not constrain, the Board or the Legal Profession Complaints Committee (LPCC) in taking such action as it considers appropriate in relation to matters that may become the subject of a complaint or investigation. Similarly, if following investigation, by the Board or the LPCC, adverse findings are made by the Board, LPCC, or the State Administrative Tribunal that the use of the title “principal” or “partner” by the law practice is misleading, the Board reserves the right to consider whether the use of either title is appropriate.