by Choo Dee Wei
Published July 8, 2018
We lawyers now have our very own version of the Justice League or the Avengers (depending on your preference). It comes in the form of the Legal Profession (Group Law Practice) Rules 2018 (“the GLP Rules”). Simplistically, the objective is for several firms to come together and work with one another as a group.
The GLP Rules were made pursuant to section 77 of the Legal Profession Act 1976 and came into operation on 30.6.2018.
How does one be part of a group legal practice? There are several conditions:-
each group law practice must consist of 2 to 5 law firms as its members (this author shall refer to them as GLP Member or GLP Members as the situation calls for it) - where a firm can mean either a sole proprietorship or a partnership of advocates and solicitors;
each GLP Member must not have more than 5 advocates and solicitors;
each GLP Member shall not be a firm with branches;
the GLP Members are to share a premise at a common address and facilities under a group law practice name;
each GLP Member cooperates with each other without being partners;
a GLP Member can only be a member of 1 group law practice.
Once the GLP Members fulfill the above conditions, they then proceed to apply in writing to the Bar Council for an approval of:-
practising as a group law practice;
the proposed name of the group law practice; and
the manner in which the name of the group law practice will be used together with the name of the firm of each member in the group law practice.
The Bar Council will not approve any proposed name of a group law practice if the name:-
is or may reasonably be regarded as being ostentatious, misleading, exploitative, deceptive, sensational, offensive or in any other way unbefitting the dignity of the legal profession; or
is so similar to other existing group law practices as to likely to be confused with.
If Bar Council approves the application to practise as a group law practice, the following effect takes place:-
the approved group law practice shall use the words “group law practice” as part of its name;
the approved group law practice shall use display the names of all the GLP Members on the group law practice nameplate outside the premises of the group law practice - which nameplate shall be in such form as determined by the Bar Council;
the approved group law practice shall not have any branch;
the approved group law practice shall notify the Bar Council of any changes in the number of the GLP Members within 14 days of such change;
the approved group law practice does not have a juridical entity and a notice to this effect shall be displayed prominently within the office of the approved group law practice; and
the approved group law practice shall not operate as a partnership and a notice to this effect shall be given to clients of the GLP Members.
As for the GLP Members, here are some interesting points to factor:-
they shall use the name of the approved group law practice together with its own name provided that its name is more prominent than the name of the approved group law practice;
they shall use the name of the group law practice in documents in which its name appears including its letterheads and business cards;
if a GLP Member decides to withdraw from a group law practice, it shall notify the Bar Council in writing within 14 days of such withdrawal;
a GLP Member may request another GLP Member in the same approved group law practice to undertake work instructed by a client provided that the client gives written consent;
a GLP Member may act for a party in a matter where another GLP Member in the same approved group law practice is acting for the other party in the same matter provided both parties give written consent;
a notice incorporating (4) and (5) above shall be displayed prominently within the office of the approved group law practice in such form determined by the Bar Council;
an advocate and solicitor (who is a commissioner for oaths or a notary public) of a GLP Member may attest to any document of clients of another GLP Member in the same approved group law practice;
each GLP Member shall be liable to pay and discharge its own debts and liabilities;
each GLP Member shall keep the other GLP Members in the same approved group law practice and their respective estates indemnified against such debts and liabilities and against all actions, proceedings, costs, claims and demands in respect of the said debts and liabilities;
each GLP Member shall bear its own professional indemnity insurance premium, accountancy and audit costs, professional and similar subscriptions and levies payable to the Bar Council;
any GLP Member may open and operate a common bank account for the purpose of meeting common expenses of the approved group law practice;
notwithstanding paragraph (11) above, each GLP Member shall maintain, separately from the other GLP Members of the same approved group law practice, its own office and client accounts; and
where a GLP Member is a sole proprietorship, the sole proprietor shall appoint in writing another GLP Member in the same approved group law practice to act in his/her stead (subject to the permission of the Bar Council) in the event of his/her incapacity or death.
Indeed, very interesting times ahead of us.