Establishing a Law Practice in South Australia

This Guide is for the establishment of law practices in South Australia through which legal services will be provided by South Australian practising certificate holders. For information about the provision of legal services in South Australia by interstate legal practising certificate holders please click here.

Law practice is defined by the Legal Practitioners Act 1981 (Act) as follows:

law practice means—
(a) a legal practitioner who is a sole practitioner; or
(b) a firm of—
(i) legal practitioners; or
(ii) incorporated legal practices; or
(iii) legal practitioners and incorporated legal practices; or
(c) an incorporated legal practice that practises on its own account; or
(d) a community legal centre.

The Legal Practitioners Regulations 2014 (Regulation/s) requires that notice of establishment, change of address or closure of a law practice and amalgamations of law practices must be provided to the Society within one month of the particular event (see Regulation 4). Notice and disclosure requirements also apply in relation to incorporated legal practices (see below).

All South Australian law practices are required to participate in the South Australian Professional Indemnity Scheme (PII Scheme). Information about the PII Scheme is available here.

All law practices receiving trust money in South Australia are required to operate a legal practitioners trust account held in South Australia. Information about South Australian requirements for trust accounts can be found here.

The Act provides the following definition of sole practitioner:

sole practitioner means a legal practitioner who practices the profession of the law on his or her own account

Sole practitioners include South Australian practitioners practising wholly as barristers. If you are a barrister you are entitled to a reduced PII Scheme contribution which is 20% of the base contribution.

Sole practitioners whose gross fee income for the period of insurance does not exceed $50,000 may also be entitled to a reduced PII Scheme contribution of:

a.     20% of the base contribution if gross fee income does not exceed $25,000.

b.     50% of the base contribution if gross fee income is more than $25,000 and does not exceed $50,000.

Click here for information about low income sole practitioners.

Sole practitioners wanting to provide legal services through an incorporated entity must comply with the requirements in relation to incorporated legal practices (see below). The contribution reduction available for low income sole practitioners does not apply to incorporated legal practices.

Sole practitioners can only provide legal services in South Australia. Non-legal services cannot be provided through a law practice. Restrictions in relation to the sharing of profits and employment of disqualified persons may also apply (see sections 23 and 23AA).

Before starting to engage in legal practice in South Australia as a sole practitioner you must complete and submit one or more of the following forms to the Society:

c.     Form H and SA Practice Profile if practising as a barrister and solicitor.

d.     Form F and Barrister Profile if practising as a barrister.

Other forms may also be required but you will be prompted to these when completing the forms referred to above.

Once the correct forms are submitted and all the necessary information provided you will be sent an invoice for your PII Scheme contribution (the invoice may also refer to other charges such as practising certificate and Law Society Membership fees). When the Society receives payment of that invoice a Certificate of Insurance will be issued. You must not commence practising as a sole practitioner until you have received your Certificate of Insurance.

Prior to commencing practice as a sole practitioner, you should also ensure that that you hold a Category A or B practising certificate. Information about practising certificates is available here.

The Act does not provide a definition of “firm”. Section 4 of the Partnership Act 1891 provides as follows:

4—Meaning of firm

Persons who have entered into partnership other than an incorporated limited partnership with one another are, for the purposes of this Act, called collectively a firm, and the name under which their business is carried on is called the firm-name.

Firms can only provide legal services in South Australia. Restrictions in relation to the sharing of profits and employment of disqualified persons may also apply (see sections 23 and 23AA).

Before a firm can commence the provision of legal services in South Australia it must complete and submit a Form H and SA Practice Profile to the Society. You will be prompted to complete other forms if necessary.

If the firm is a partnership of incorporated legal practices or legal practitioners and incorporated legal practices, the legal practitioner director/s of each incorporated legal practice partner must also comply with the requirements in relation to the establishment of incorporated legal practices (see below).

Once the correct forms are submitted and all the necessary information provided the firm will be sent an invoice for its PII Scheme contribution (the invoice may also refer to other charges such as practising certificate and Law Society Membership fees). When the Society receives payment of that invoice a Certificate of Insurance will be issued to the firm. The firm must not commence the provision of legal services in South Australia until it has been issued with a Certificate of Insurance.

The following applies to incorporated legal practices that are established in South Australia and provide legal services here through practitioners with South Australian practising certificates. For information about interstate incorporated legal practices providing legal services here through practitioners with interstate practising certificates go to the Interstate Legal Practitioner page here.

The requirements for incorporated legal practices are provided for in Schedule 1 of the Act. Legal practitioner directors of South Australian incorporated legal practices should familiarise themselves with these requirements.

Clause 1 of Schedule 1 of the Act provides as follows:

(1)     An incorporated legal practice is a corporation that engages in legal practice in this jurisdiction.

(2)     However, a corporation is not an incorporated legal practice if—

(a) the corporation does not receive any form of, or have any expectation of, a fee, gain or reward for the legal services it provides; or

(b) the only legal services that the corporation provides are any or all of the following services:

         (i)     in‑house legal services, namely, legal services provided to the corporation concerning a proceeding or transaction to which the corporation (or a related body corporate) is a party;

         (ii)    services that are not legally required to be provided by a legal practitioner and that are provided by an officer or employee who is not a legal practitioner; or

(c) this Schedule or the regulations so provide.

The requirements contained in Schedule 1 include the following (these are merely summarised – go to the Act and Regulations for the full text):

a.     May only provide legal services (clause 2 of Schedule 1).

b.     Must provide notice (clauses 4, 4A, 5 and 5A of Schedule 1). Note that failure to provide notice is an offence and also has ramifications for billing and fee recovery.

c.     At least one director of the corporation must hold a South Australian practising certificate (clause 8 of Schedule 1).

Incorporated legal practices wishing to provide legal services in South Australia through practitioners with South Australian practising certificates must complete and submit a Form G and SA Practice Profile (while completing the Form G you will be prompted to provide any additional forms).

Once the correct forms are submitted and all the necessary information provided the incorporated legal practice will be sent an invoice for its PII Scheme contribution (the invoice may also refer to other charges such as practising certificate and Law Society Membership fees). When the Society receives payment of that invoice a Certificate of Insurance will be issued. The incorporated legal practice must not commence the provision of legal services in South Australia until it has been issued with a Certificate of Insurance. 

The Act provides the following definition:

community legal centre means a body that provides legal services to the community, or a section of the community, on a non‑profit basis, and includes the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, but does not include the Legal Services Commission;

Special requirements apply to Community Legal Centres. If you want information about establishing a Community Legal Centre in South Australia please contact a Legal Officer in the Society’s Ethics and Practice Unit by phone on (08)8229 0200 or by email to ethicsandpractice@lawsocietysa.asn.au

The Society publishes a Practice Management Directory  which provides links and resources for commencing and managing law practices in South Australia.

Members of the Society also have access to a Small Practice Kit  that provides in depth guidance and advice in relation to establishing a small practice.  The kit contains guidance in relation to complying with obligations and minimum requirements, but also provides information in relation to varying ways of practising and comments on best practices.

Please click here for information about becoming a member of the Law Society of South Australia.

Further Enquiries

If you have any further queries, contact the Ethics and Practice Unit at ethicsandpractice@lawsocietysa.asn.au or (08) 8229 0200.