Guidance and assistance for firms
Updated Tuesday 5 May 2020
QLS support package to keep doors open and people in jobs
President Luke Murphy and CEO Rolf Moses announce QLS’ support package for Queensland’s legal profession as it operates through the COVID-19 economy.
QLS will provide the 13,000 practitioners in Queensland with access to a support package worth $9 million.
Specifically, this support package will provide Queensland practitioners with a:
Read the details of the support package or watch the video update today.
Expanded services from the QLS Ethics and Practice Centre
QLS is now providing three significant new services as part of our support package for the legal profession via the QLS Ethics and Practice Centre.
These new services provide for employment law advice service (ELAS), the general manager support service (GMSS) and the government funding assistance service (GFAS) which offer guidance on accessing government support due to COVID-19.
Each service is provided via an expert advisory panel and is free for members who meet the eligibility criteria. They will benefit with up to two (three for GFAS) hours of advice.
Commercial and residential tenancies – National Cabinet Statement
National Cabinet announced on 29 March 2020 that it has agreed to a moratorium on evictions over the next six months for commercial and residential tenancies in financial distress who are unable to meet their commitments due to the impact of coronavirus. National Cabinet also agreed to a common set of principles, endorsed by Treasurers, to underpin and govern intervention to aid commercial tenancies. Please see the media statement for more details.
Australian Banking Association – business loan relief measures extended
On 30 March 2020, the ABA announced that Australia’s banks will extend the six month deferral of loans to businesses with total business loan facilities of up to $10 million (up from the $3 million small business threshold). The new opt-measures apply on the basis of certain conditions, including that for commercial property landlords, they provide an undertaking to the bank that for the period of the interest capitalisation, they will not terminate leases or evict current tenants for rent arrears as a result of COVID19. See the ABA media release and ABA website for more details.
FIRB - Changes to foreign investment framework
The threshold amounts which apply in determining whether particular foreign investments made on or after 10:30 pm (AEST) Sunday, 29 March 2020 are subject to Australia’s foreign investment framework are now $0, following the Treasurer’s announcement. Changes were announced relating to monetary thresholds and timeframes for reviewing applications. Material on the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) website is being updated to capture these changes. In the meantime, please see the FIRB website summarising these changes, the Treasurer’s media release of 29 March 2020 and the FIRB media release for more information.
Helpline for businesses impacted by COVID-19
From today, Monday 23 March 2020, the Morrison Government’s business hotline will give more support to small and medium businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Operations at the business.gov.au 13 28 46 Contact Centre will be available from 7am to 11pm AEST seven days per week.
Contact the business.gov.au Contact Centre
Measures to assist law firms
Both the Federal and state governments have released financial and legislative measures which are designed to assist businesses in the current financial difficulties. Many of those measures will assist law firms impacted by these difficulties. Find out more
Financial assistance for Queensland business
To assist businesses who are struggling financially, the Queensland premier has introduced a $4 billion financial support package for small, medium and large businesses specifically impacted by COVID-19. They will be eligible for a refund of two months’ worth of payroll tax.
Additionally, small and medium businesses will be eligible for a three-month payroll tax holiday, and a further six-month payroll tax deferral.
If you are seeking payroll tax relief, applications can be made through the Australian Government website.
Financial assistance for Australian business
For assistance of law practices we advise that the Australian Government’s support for businesses can be found here. In particular, you may be interested in the following:
- Increasing the instant asset write-off
- Backing Business Investment (accelerating depreciation deductions)
- Boosting cash flow for employers
- Supporting apprentices and trainees, and
- Temporary relief for financially distressed businesses.
In addition, the Queensland Government is providing assistance with payroll tax support and low interest loans of up to $250,000 to carry on finance with an initial 12-month interest free period for businesses to retain staff. More information on this can be found here.
Assistance for business
Guidance to members concerning management issues that may arise as a consequence of COVID-19
Queensland Law Society recommends to our members that they give consideration to the following issues as they respond to the current, uncertain COVID-19 pandemic.
1. We recommend that you take appropriate measures to protect your staff and people attending your offices, and that if you are a principal in your of law practice, you refer to the useful guidance on infection control measures that have been published by the Australian Government Department of Health and Queensland Health in relation to the interaction between your staff and members of the public. Your plan should identify the risks and outline what is reasonably practical to minimise those risks to your staff and clients.
2. You should ensure that your clients’ interests are protected. The issues that may arise for a practice will vary from firm to firm and will depend to a large extent upon the type of work that you undertake, the client base that you have, the time limits that may attach to the work that you are doing and the interaction that you may have with the various courts and tribunals. These factors will influence any decision to operate your firm remotely and whether your physical office needs to remain open. If your office is to close temporarily, you must inform your clients and advise them how to communicate with staff.
We also remind you that there is a general obligation to supervise the work being performed by your staff, even when they are working remotely. Matters to be addressed for remote supervision include:
• You should provide for daily contact between the supervisor and the supervised person
• The supervisor must be aware of the work being undertaken
• The supervisor needs to have direction or oversight as to the tasks to be undertaken with respect to the matters that are being attended to by the supervised person for a client
• The supervisor should ensure that they can provide reasonable guidance to the supervised person
• The supervisor should be in a position to satisfy themselves that correspondence and advice is well founded, endorsed, and capable being signed off.
The level of the supervision that will be required will vary depending on the experience, qualifications, type and complexity of the work being undertaken by the supervised person.
3. It is important for you to continue to deliver your services as promptly and diligently as reasonably possible in the circumstances. This means that your obligation of competence requires you to be aware of timeframes and limitations which may exist in a client matter and are required to be fulfilled to protect the clients’ interests.
4. You should ensure that your client base is able to be contacted via telephone or other communications methods so that instructions can be taken and advices provided. This may mean that you need more than one avenue of communication with your client.
QLS reminds practitioners to take extra precautions regarding cyber safety. Cyber-criminals often exploit disruption and breaks in routine. Take extra care before transferring funds. Confirm transfer details by telephone (do not rely on missed calls and messages) and be aware that there are extra risks with remote working.
Download QLS's Information Security During the COVID-19 crisis
Guidance and assistance for solicitors
Trust Account Receipts and EFT Payments from Trust
We understand that COVID-19 has impacted how many law practices conduct their practice and given rise to issues surrounding the management of their trust account.
Receipt of trust money
Where possible, encourage clients to provide trust funds via direct deposit or electronic funds transfer (EFT) to your trust account.
If trust funds are received in the form of cash or cheques there is still a requirement to bank these funds to the trust account as soon as practicable (s.248(1) of the Legal Profession Act 2007); which the Society takes to mean the same or next business day. To minimise contact with banking staff law practices may utilise the bank’s ATMs to deposit funds to their trust account, as long as they maintain deposit slips that comply with s. 35 of the Legal Profession Regulation 2017.
Payment from the trust account via EFT
Law practices may seek approval from the Society to make payments from the trust account via EFT. The law practice must read through and agree to adhere to the EFT Guidelines for trust account operations.
A sample application letter can be located in Appendix A of the EFT Guidelines. Applications should be submitted to email@example.com. You will need to speak with your financial institution prior to applying for approval to ensure that the extra security requirements can be adhered.
Once you receive approval, EFT payments from trust can be processed. However there are some payments, for example the purchase of bank cheques, which will still necessitate a trust cheque to be issued.
We also remind law practices to ensure that they are aware of the cyber security alerts issued by the Society and Lexon.
Any enquiries regarding the management of your trust account can be directed to our Trust Account Investigations team on 07 3842 5908.
Applications for payment instead of taking long service leave (Form 13) - Temporary change to Form and process
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be an influx of Applications for payment instead of taking long service leave (Form 13) made to the Commission. The form itself has been simplified and it would be appreciated if employers could assist employees by providing them with the following information, in writing, for them to submit with their application:
- The Applicant’s present entitlement to long service leave (eg. The full entitlement accrued to-date) represented in hours;
- The gross and net monetary value for the amount of long service leave applied for by the applicant; and
- The title of the Industrial Instruments which apply to the Applicant (i.e. Award, Certified Agreement) if applicable.
If this information from the employer is not provided by the employee at the time of making the application, a Directions Order will be issued to the employer requesting the above information is provided within a very short turnaround time.