By -

Going on holidays? Need a helping hand? A locum solicitor might be your answer.

In the legal profession, a “locum” refers to a solicitor who steps in temporarily to act in place and fulfil the duties of another solicitor. If the term sounds a bit old and foreign it’s not surprising, given the term derives from the medieval Latin phrase locum tenens (singular) or locum tenentes (plural), which means “one holding a place”. While historically the term has predominantly been applied to clerics and doctors, locum solicitors have long served an important function in the legal profession – keeping the ‘access to justice’ wheels grinding in the face of staff shortages and during holiday periods, when many solicitors take a much-needed break from their legal practice.

From time to time, especially if you are going on extended leave, you may want to consider calling on the services of a locum solicitor, or for some practitioners, perhaps stepping into this important role yourself. Whether you’re thinking about engaging or becoming a locum solicitor, this article has you covered with step-by-step guides for requesting and registering as a locum.

Finding a locum solicitor

The Law Society’s Locum Service has been connecting law practices seeking short or fixed-term assistance with experienced substitute solicitors for over 20 years.

Requesting a locum solicitor through the Law Society’s Locum Service simply requires:

  1. Downloading and completing the Locum assignment request application.
  2. Returning the completed application to the Law Society Access to Justice Department at [email protected].

When completing the application, be sure to specify your requirements, including:

  • the period in which a locum solicitor is required
  • the commencement date
  • whether the locum will be engaged on a full-time or part-time basis and
  • whether they can work in the office, on a hybrid basis or only remotely.

You will also be asked to specify the tasks to be completed by the locum, including if they are required to attend court. If travel is required or the locum needs their own vehicle, you will be asked for further details, including how travel reimbursements are to be provided.

Registered locums have three business days to express their interest in a given assignment.

Becoming a locum solicitor

If you want to register as a locum solicitor with the Law Society’s Locum Service, you need to hold a current practising certificate that is not subject to any statutory or discretionary conditions requiring you to engage in supervised legal practice or preventing you from supervising others. You also need to have at least five years’ post-admission experience.

If you meet these criteria, then you can register as a locum solicitor with the Law Society’s Locum Service by:

  1. Downloading and completing the Locum panel application form.
  2. Returning the completed application along with your current CV to the Law Society Access to Justice Department at [email protected].

Registration is to the service is free for all NSW legal practitioners.

Further information about the Locum Service is available here on the Law Society website, or you can email [email protected] with your specific questions.

Meeting your regulatory obligations as a locum solicitor

While the Law Society’s Locum Service can act as a springboard for practitioners looking to traverse locum practice for the first time, you don’t need to be registered with the service to act as a locum. Like with any type of practising arrangement, from muista regulatory compliance perspective, there are three key provisions under the Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW) (Uniform Law) to keep in mind:

  1. Section 54 – a legal practitioner must comply with all conditions on their practising certificate.
  2. Section 211 – a legal practitioner must not engage in legal practice unless the practitioner holds or is covered by an approved professional indemnity insurance (PII) policy.
  3. Section 10 – legal services can only be delivered by a ‘qualified entity’, as defined under the Uniform Law.

To help illustrate how these three provisions interplay when it comes to practising as a locum, we’ve put together a case study for you.

Locum solicitor case study

Lucy has been practising as an employee of a law firm for just over five years. She currently holds an “employee of a law practice” practising certificate.

A couple of years ago, she applied to the Law Society to have the statutory condition of supervised legal practice (Condition 2) removed from her practising certificate. She has also completed the Legal Practice Management Course to remove Condition 3 from her practising certificate while also gaining her mandatory 10 CPD points.

Over the past five years, Lucy has made hard yards and finally feels ready to diversify her practice and have more flexibility and autonomy in how she practises law.

Lucy is considering becoming a locum solicitor but is not sure whether she meets the requirements.

Can Lucy practise as a locum solicitor?

Like any good answer to a legal question, it depends. And in this case, it depends on the terms and conditions of the locum assignment.

Before accepting any locum assignment, remember to discuss both the conditions of the assignment and who will be responsible for provision of an appropriate level of PII.

  1. Practising certificate conditions

With her current practising certificate, Lucy can only practise as an employee of a law practice. Lucy cannot step in and act in the place of a law practice principal because her practising certificate does not authorise her to, for example, sign a bill of costs or receive trust money on behalf of a law practice.

If a law practice (the “assignment practice”) wants to engage Lucy as a locum solicitor, it needs to do so under a short-term employment contract. Lucy’s current practising certificate does not allow her to practise as an independent contractor. If she wants to practise as an independent contractor, she needs to vary her practising certificate to ‘principal of a law practice’. 

Luckily for Lucy, her practising certificate is no longer subject to Condition 2. Otherwise, she would have an additional obligation to ensure there was another solicitor in the assignment practice authorised to supervise her.[1]

  1. Professional indemnity insurance

With an ‘employee of a law practice’ practising certificate, Lucy cannot take out her own PII policy; only a solicitor holding a ‘principal of a law practice’ practising certificate can take out their own policy. If she continues to practise as an employed solicitor in her locum arrangement, Lucy will need to ensure she is covered by the assignment practice’s PII policy. If, however, Lucy wants to take up an engagement as an independent contractor, in addition to holding the right practising certificate, she will need to take out an approved PII policy in her own name.

Lawcover’s Consultant Checklist is a helpful tool that assists solicitors determine whether they need to take out their own PII policy or whether they will be covered by the firm’s policy.

  1. Legal services to be provided by a ‘qualified entity’

If the assignment practice engaged Lucy as an employee, legal services provided by Lucy would be through the practice, a ‘qualified entity’[2] already registered with the Law Society. Lucy would not need to register a separate practice with the Law Society. She would simply need to inform the Law Society Registry of her locum assignment within seven (7) days of its commencement.[3]

If, however, she was to be engaged as an independent contractor, Lucy would need to register her own law practice with the Law Society. When a solicitor provides legal services as an independent contractor, they are operating their own legal services business and therefore needs to ensure that their business is conducted through a qualified entity, as defined under section 6 of the Uniform Law.

Further information about qualified law practice structures under the Uniform Law is available here on the Law Society website.

If you want further guidance on how to set up a qualified law practice, refer to ‘Establishing a law practice’ on the Law Society’s Regulatory Compliance page.

Ethical and professional obligations

In addition to practising certificate conditions, PII and qualified law practice structures, regard must also be given to solicitors’ ethical and professional obligations under the Legal Profession Uniform Law Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules 2015 (Conduct Rules) and the Legal Profession Uniform Legal Practice (Solicitors) Rules 2015 (Solicitors’ Practice Rules).

Practitioners wishing to take up a locum assignment in addition to any existing legal practice must ensure they continue to discharge their obligation to avoid conflicts of interest, whether that is between two current clients[4] or between a current client and a former client;[5] always maintain confidentiality of client information;[6] and adhere to the requirements of Rule 8 of the Solicitors’ Practice Rules.

Solicitors are not prohibited from undertaking secondary employment under the Uniform Law and Rules so long as they can continue to discharge their legal, professional and ethical obligations.

Further guidance and support

If you are thinking about either hiring or becoming a locum solicitor and would like further guidance on practising certificate conditions and entitlements and qualified law practice structures, reach out to the Law Society’s Professional Support Unit (PSU) for a completely free and confidential chat.

PSU’s Regulatory Compliance line provides free and confidential guidance to solicitors on compliance issues related to the provision of legal services under the Uniform Law. Common questions handled by Regulatory Compliance are those regarding practicing certificates, practice management and practice structures permitted by the Uniform Law, such as incorporated legal practices.

Costs: [email protected]  or (02) 9926 0116

Ethics: [email protected] or (02) 9926 0114

Regulatory compliance: [email protected] or (02) 9926 0115

[1] Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW) s49 and s47(6).

[2] A ‘qualified entity’ is defined in s6 of the Legal Profession Uniform Law (NSW).

[3] Legal Profession Uniform Application Regulation 2015 reg61.

[4] Legal Profession Uniform Law Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules 2015 s11.

[5] Ibid s10.

[6] Ibid s9.