Policy Agenda

Common questions about practicing foreign law in Australia and practice rights for Australians overseas

What is meant by “local”, “foreign” and “international” law?

“Local” law refers to the law that applies in a particular country. For example, in Australia, local law refers to the laws of the Australian Commonwealth as well as the laws in place in each Australian State and Territory.

“Foreign” law refers to the law of any other country when practiced outside that country. For example, Chinese law or the New York State law are regarded as “foreign” law when practiced in Australia. Conversely, Australian law is regarded as “foreign” law when practiced in China or in New York State.

“International” law means both public and private international law and includes international arbitration, mediation and dispute resolution services. For the purpose of this guide, a reference to foreign law can be taken to include a reference to international law.

Can I practice foreign law in Australia?

Yes.There are no formal barriers to prevent foreign lawyers providing foreign law legal services on a fly-in, fly-out basis.

"Fly-in, fly-out" means coming to Australia to provide legal services on a temporary basis. Please note, you will need to obtain the appropriate visa to enter Australia.

Foreign lawyers working on a fly-in, fly-out basis are entitled to come to Australia and act for their clients and provide legal services (for example in commercial negotiations, on transnational contracts, or international arbitrations), for a maximum period of 90 days in any 12 month period.

There is no requirement to register with an Australian legal profession regulatory body, provided the foreign lawyer does not maintain a legal office in Australia or become a partner or director of a law practice in Australia.

Eligibility for foreign lawyers to provide legal services in Australia is based on their right to provide legal services in their home and/or other foreign jurisdiction rather than on their nationality or residency status. That is, Australia enables foreign lawyers to practise foreign law in Australia to the extent that they are entitled to practise law in their home country and/or another foreign jurisdiction.

I am admitted to practice/studied law overseas and want to practice foreign law in Australia

There is no requirement for a foreign lawyer to register in South Australia to provide foreign law legal services in that state.

For all other Australian States and Territories, foreign lawyers who wish to practise for more than 90 days in any 12 month period or establish a commercial presence (an office) may do so though a simple registration process that is purely based on their right to engage in legal practice in one or more foreign jurisdictions.

Following registration with the local state or territory authority as an ‘Australian-registered foreign lawyer’, a foreign lawyer is permitted to practise the law of those foreign jurisdictions in which the lawyer is appropriately qualified and international law. An Australian-registered foreign lawyer may also work in commercial association with Australian lawyers.

Legal profession legislation in each State and Territory (except South Australia) provides for ‘mutual recognition’ of an Australian-registered foreign lawyer’s practising entitlements – i.e. a foreign lawyer registered as an Australian-registered foreign lawyer by one jurisdiction will be entitled to engage in legal practice as a foreign lawyer in any other Australian jurisdiction without having to apply for an additional registration.

Australian-registered foreign lawyers are subject to the same professional, ethical and practice standards as apply to Australian legal practitioners.

A registered foreign lawyer is not entitled to practise Australian law, but may employ Australian legal practitioners.

Detailed information about the requirements for registration as a foreign lawyer should be directed to the admitting authority in the jurisdiction where you wish to practise.

I am admitted to practise/studied law overseas and want to practice local law in Australia

Generally

Every lawyer trained outside Australia who wishes to become eligible for admission in Australia must first apply to an admitting authority for an assessment of whether the person's academic and practical legal training qualifications are substantially equivalent to the qualifications required of local applicants. That assessment will set out what additional studies the applicant must undertake in Australia, and the period within which the applicant must complete those studies and apply for admission.

A lawyer trained and admitted to the legal profession in New Zealand may apply to have those qualifications recognised under the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Act 1997 (Cth). Once an overseas applicant has been admitted to the legal profession, the applicant must obtain a practising certificate before commencing to practise law.

Specific questions should be directed to the admitting authority or the practicing certificate issuing authority in the state or territory where the applicant intends to practise.

Admission to practice local law in Australia

The Law Admissions Consultative Committee has developed Uniform Principles for Assessing the Qualifications of Overseas Applicants for Admission to the Australian Legal Profession. Principles and guidelines relating to conditional admission are also in development.

To be admitted to the legal profession in an Australian jurisdiction on the basis of qualifications obtained outside Australia, an applicant must usually have:

a) completed a tertiary course leading to legal practice in the applicant's home jurisdiction, which is substantially equivalent to a three-year full-time law course that leads to admission to the legal profession in Australia; and

b) successfully completed subjects, either as part of that course or otherwise, which are substantially equivalent to the areas of study which Australian applicants must successfully complete before being admitted to the legal profession in Australia; and

c) acquired and demonstrated an appropriate understanding of, and competence in, certain skills, practice areas and values, which are substantially equivalent to the skills, practice areas and values which Australian applicants must acquire and demonstrate an understanding of and competence in, before being admitted to the legal profession in Australia; and

d) undertaken, or been exempted from, the International English Language Testing System Academic Module (IELTS) test within two years before seeking admission, and obtained minimum scores of 8.0 for writing, 7.5 for speaking and 7.0 for reading and listening, in the components of that test.

An admitting authority may dispense with one or more of the requirements referred to in items (b) and (c) in the case of an experienced practitioner from an overseas jurisdiction if it considers that the applicant's experience is sufficiently relevant, substantial and current to justify a dispensation.

Australian practicing certificates

During the first 18-months or 2-years’ of post-admission legal practice, Australian legal practitioners practising as a solicitor will have a condition imposed on their practising certificate that they may only engage in legal practice under supervision. Newly admitted Australian lawyers who practice as a barrister may be required to undertake a bar-reading or similar program.

Australian practising certificates are renewed annually and are (unless exempted) subject to statutory conditions about maintaining professional indemnity insurance and undertaking continuing professional development. In addition, other statutory and discretionary conditions may be imposed on a practising certificate.

An Australian legal practitioner granted a practising certificate in one Australian state or territory is able to practice local law in any other Australian state or territory without needing to apply for an additional practising certificate.

Australian Admitting Authorities and Practicing Certificate Issuing Authorities

Admitting Authority

Practicing Certificate Issuing Authorities

I practice or have studied Australian law and want to practice foreign law in another country

Each overseas jurisdiction maintains its own system of regulation governing the practice of foreign law. Depending on the jurisdiction, you may be permitted to provide legal services using some, all or none of the following methods:

The Law Council has prepared a series of factsheets on the practice of foreign law in select foreign countries.

The International Bar Association Global Cross Border Legal Services Report also provides information about requirements for the practice of foreign law.

Inquiries about the requirements to practice foreign law in another country should be directed to the organisation responsible for regulating legal practice in that country.

I practice or have studied Australian law and want to practice local law in another country

Each overseas jurisdiction maintains its own system of regulation governing the practice of local law by foreign trained lawyers. Different conditions will apply depending on the jurisdiction where you wish to practise. For example, some countries require that anyone practicing law is a permanent resident or holds citizenship in that country, while others may require you to complete further training before you can apply for a local practicing certificate.

Inquiries about the requirements to practice foreign law in another country should be directed to the organisation responsible for regulating legal practice in that country.

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