Whose details can appear on my law practice’s letterhead and business cards?
There is no longer any restriction on whose details can appear on a law practice letterhead, or who in a practice may have a business card, but where a person is named, the person’s status within the practice, and legal qualification or lack of it, must be made clear.
The qualifications and status of the persons engaged in a law practice should be represented accurately to any person who has dealings with the practice. This was explicitly stated in s.34 of the (now repealed) Solicitors Rule 2007. There is no specific equivalent rule in the current rules, the Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules (ASCR) (which commenced on 1 June 2012) but there are relevant provisions to the same effect. Firstly, there is the fundamental ethical duty in Rule 4 of the ASCR to be honest in all dealings in the course of legal practice. Secondly, by Rule 36.1, to the extent that letterheads, business cards, signature blocks, etc. are “advertising, marketing or promotion in connection with” a solicitor or law practice, they must not be false, misleading, deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive. And the like provisions in the Australian Consumer Law may also apply - see further the FAQ What are the rules about solicitors’ advertising generally?
Also, s.25 of the Legal Profession Act 2007 prohibits a person from representing or advertising that they are entitled to engage in legal practice unless they have a practising certificate, and this includes doing anything that states or implies this status. See Legal Services Commissioner v Beames  QSC 327.
So it is particularly important that the status of persons who are not legally qualified is made clear, to avoid any presumption or misunderstanding that they are legally qualified just by virtue of their association with the law practice. The 2003 decision of the Solicitors Complaints Tribunal In the matter of Dean Phillip Bax serves as a warning in this respect. The Tribunal found that a managing law clerk had falsely held himself out to be a solicitor, and ordered that he not be employed by a law practice for 12 months.
Appropriate descriptions for non-legally-qualified persons include:
- ‘clerk', 'legal clerk', 'conveyancing clerk', 'litigation clerk', etc. but not 'conveyancer'
- ‘law graduate’ if the person has a law degree
- for those undertaking the practical legal training course or a supervised traineeship, the above descriptions can be used
- ‘supervised trainee’ for those undertaking a supervised traineeship.
The term “paralegal” should not be used in light of criticism of this term by the QLS Ethics Committee Chair, Brian Bartley, in his article ‘Fair Terms?’ in Proctor (September 2010 p12) and Chief Justice Paul de Jersey’s comments to The Australian reported on 17 September 2010.
The repealed Solicitors Rule 2007, in s.5.3, stated that employed solicitors, if not employed by a law practice (in-house counsel), could not permit their employer to put their name on its letterhead if, on the letterhead, there was some indication that they were a solicitor. There is no equivalent rule in the current Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules.
Incorporated legal practices should note the requirements of sections 88A and 153 to 155 of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cwth).
Incorporated legal practices and multi-disciplinary partnerships should note the disclosure requirements in ss.123 and 152 respectively of the Legal Profession Act 2007.
If you have dealings with debt collection or mercantile agents, you should not allow your business name or stationery to be used by the agent in a manner that is likely to mislead the public. See Guidance note for members: Ethical duties when instructions are received from debt collections or mercantile agents.