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Commissioner Update - May 2022

Commissioner update

In this issue:

  • Introduction from the Commissioner
  • VLSB+C survey on the lawyer-client relationship
  • Renew your practising certificate before June 30
  • Workplace Culture Survey findings
  • Improving access to justice with Victoria Legal Aid
  • Reminder on importance of Russia/Ukraine sanctions compliance
  • Going Digital – guidance for managing client files and trust records in digital form
  • Amendments to Solicitors’ Conduct Rules
  • Western Australia to join Uniform Law scheme
  • New Practice Health Check Tool launched
  • LPLC alerts on tax risks

The practising certificate renewal period opened on March 28, and it has been pleasing to see so many of you have already applied to renew. Our team is working hard to process all the applications received. If you haven’t done so yet, you have until 30 June to submit your application and make payment.

A key part of the renewal process is the opportunity it presents for us to hear from you. This year we’re asking you to complete a voluntary survey to tell us about your experience of the relationship you have with your clients. What are the challenges and pressures you’re facing? How do you manage these relationships and set expectations with clients?

We’re also interested in your views on cost disclosure and the issues you experience with costs and billing – do your clients understand their costs, how often are they disputed and how do you calculate what’s fair and reasonable?

You can find out more about the survey below. I encourage you to take the time to fill it in. The information you provide is very helpful to us as we set our activities and priorities. We will also publish the findings so you can learn from what we find.

Earlier this month, we released the findings of last year’s survey, which had a focus on workplace culture.

It was encouraging to see that the headline findings were generally positive. However, the story became more complex when we delved into the findings based on the respondents’ age, gender and other demographic factors. This tells me the legal sector, as a whole, still has work to do to improve the situation for particular cohorts in the profession, including younger lawyers and women.

We have shared these survey findings with the LIV and the Bar, and look forward to continuing to support them to develop strategies to improve workplace culture across the profession. It’s also important that all of you, particularly those lawyers in leadership roles, think about these findings and join us in considering what you can do to positively contribute to improving wellbeing in our profession.

Fiona McLeay
Board CEO and Commissioner

VLSB+C survey on the lawyer-client relationship

We regularly hear from clients about their experiences with their lawyers – now we want to hear from you.

As part of the practising certificate renewal process, we’re conducting a short survey to better understand lawyers’ perspectives on key issues and challenges in the lawyer-client relationship. We are particularly interested in how you engage with your clients about the costs of the services you provide.

The information you provide will inform our regulatory activities and help us produce resources to support improved lawyer-client relationships – reducing the likelihood of disputes.

You’ll have the opportunity to participate in the survey after you submit your practising certificate renewal application online. It takes about 5-10 minutes to complete. Of course any information you provide will be confidential and cannot be linked to any details we hold about you or your practising certificate renewal application.

If you have already renewed but didn’t complete the survey, you can access it here.

Have your say!

Renew your practising certificate before June 30

So far over 16,100 lawyers have applied to renew their practising certificate and we are working hard to process all the renewals received.

Infographic of the number of practising certificates renewed verses those yet to renew.
Certificate pending?
Once you have applied to renew it can take anywhere from a few days to a few months to issue a new certificate. Reasons your certificate might be pending include:
  • you have not complied with CPD requirements
  • the trust account audit process is not complete
  • your professional indemnity insurance payment is outstanding or
  • we are assessing disclosures made in the application process.
If there were no changes to your practising certificate type, and you have paid your fees and any applicable insurance, you can continue to practise on your current certificate until a new one is issued – even after 30 June.
Haven’t renewed yet and not sure what to do? We have developed a range of resources to help you renew, including step-by-step guides, videos and frequently asked questions. Before sending your question to us, check that it hasn’t already been answered. 
Not renewing? You need to let us know if you are not renewing. Please log into LSB Online and click ‘Practising certificates’ and ‘Not renewing your practising certificate’ to let us know. This will remove you from our reminder list.
Paying by BPAY?   Make sure you have left enough time for the payment to process before 30 June. Payment needs to be received by 30 June for your renewal application to be processed.
Left your application in draft? If your application isn’t submitted by 30 June your draft will be deleted and you will have to apply for a new practising certificate. You’ll also have to pay the 200% surcharge and won’t be able to practise until your new certificate is issued.
Are you subject to a Supervised Legal Practice (SLP) condition?
If you want to have your SLP condition removed, to avoid delays in processing your practising certificate renewal you should: If you have already submitted an application to have the SLP condition removed, we are endeavouring to process these as quickly as we can.  In the meantime, you should renew your practising certificate as normal.

You will be notified when your condition has been removed and the condition will no longer appear on your practising certificate.

Findings of the 2021 VLSB+C Workplace Culture Survey

Last year, we surveyed Victorian lawyers to understand the impact of workplace culture on the wellbeing of lawyers.

Respondents were asked whether their workplace culture had a more positive or a more negative impact on their wellbeing overall.

While 76% said their workplace culture had a more positive than negative impact on their wellbeing overall, there was a noticeable difference in results when we considered the findings based on lawyers’ age and gender, as shown in the graph below.

Bar graph of workplace culture survey findings based on lawyer's age and gender.

You can access detailed information on the findings here.

To help improve the wellbeing of the legal profession, we are taking an active role in championing cultural change through our regulatory work, and supporting the professional associations in developing wellbeing resources and wellbeing projects. You can access our wellbeing resources here.

Improving access to Justice with Victoria Legal Aid

We are delighted to support Victoria Legal Aid’s ground-breaking new Conflict of Interest Policy that will improve access to justice for those most in need.

VLA is leading the way by ensuring that the right balance is struck between supporting lawyers’ professional obligations and recognising the essential role of short legal service provision in the legal assistance sector.

The policy addresses conflicts of interest that can arise when VLA lawyers are providing services to clients. It highlights the significant role that VLA’s information barrier system plays in ensuring multiple short legal services can be provided where there is no real risk of conflict.

The policy is expected to make it easier for VLA lawyers to provide services to clients and meet their professional obligations.

We look forward to continuing our work with VLA and other organisations to improve access to justice for Victorians. Find out more about this important initiative here.

Going Digital – guidance for managing client files and trust records in digital form

We have developed guidance to help you navigate the process for going fully digital with managing client files and trust records.

We see problems when lawyers attempt to keep their files in both hard copy and digital form. It can be confusing and can result in the loss of information and documents. With trust records, using the wrong software can result in breaches of the relevant practice rules.

Our new guides can help you undertake this change in an orderly, ethical way that is safe for protecting client information and will hopefully relieve some of the administrative burden on you.

You can read guidance in relation to client files here and trust accounting records here.

Reminder on importance of Russia/Ukraine sanctions compliance

In recent months, the Federal Government has imposed several autonomous sanctions on Russia and Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Victorian lawyers should be mindful of their important duty to comply with and uphold these sanctions, consistent with their duties to comply with the law and not engage in conduct that could harm public confidence in the justice system, or bring the profession into disrepute.

Law practices should take positive steps to ensure their employees do not breach Australia’s Russia/Ukraine sanctions regime.

Find out more about the sanctions and steps you can take to ensure you comply.

Amendments to Solicitors’ Conduct Rules

Following the conclusion of the Law Council of Australia’s review of the Legal Profession Uniform Law Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules 2015, the Legal Services Council made changes to the Rules which came into effect on 1 April 2022. You can read the amending instrument here.

We'd like to point out the introduction of new Rule 11A, which clarifies confidentiality and conflict of interest requirements in the provision of short-term legal assistance services.

Rule 11A will be of particular interest to lawyers who offer short-term or ‘one-off’ services on a pro bono basis or who work or volunteer at a community legal service or other legal assistance service provider.

Western Australia to join Uniform Law scheme

Western Australia is on track to join the Legal Profession Uniform Law scheme, after enabling legislation was passed through WA parliament in April.

The state first agreed to join the scheme in 2019, and both Victoria and NSW are excited to welcome WA’s almost 7,300 lawyers to the scheme.

When they officially start on 1 July 2022, around 75% of all Australian lawyers will be under the Uniform Law legislative framework.

New Practice Health Check Tool launched

LPLC has developed an online Practice Health Check tool to assist law practices to get a baseline understanding of where they are at and areas they may need to focus on or improve.

It takes about 10 minutes to run a health check. After completing a series of questions you'll receive a guide to the key things to implement. Links to additional resources are also provided. Find out more.

LPLC alerts on tax risks

The LPLC has published two alerts for conveyancing and property development lawyers.

One is about the new Windfall Gains Tax (WGT), which commences on 1 July 2023.

Lawyers negotiating long term sale contracts now that will settle after the commencement date need to take WGT into account in negotiations and drafting of contracts. Find out more here. A free recorded webinar about WGT is also available here.

The other alert is to raise lawyer awareness of the broadened ‘economic entitlement’ provisions in Part 4B of the Duties Act 2000 (Vic) (Duties Act), which took effect in June 2019. Find out more here.

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