Admission as a graduate of a New Zealand University
Congratulations! You have completed your law degree. Your dream of becoming a lawyer is much closer.
However, there are still a few other things that must be done before you become a legal practitioner. As a fresh graduate myself, I have recently undergone the admission process and at the time of writing, I am patiently awaiting admission to the roll of Barristers and Solicitors of the High Court of New Zealand at the Hamilton High Court.
This process can be stressful and confusing, so I have created this guide to help aspiring lawyers jump those final hurdles before admission with (hopefully) minimal difficulty. Here is what you will need to do:
Complete a Professional Legal Studies Course
To be admitted to the roll of Barristers and Solicitors of the High Court of New Zealand, you must complete a Professional legal studies program (‘Profs’) offered by both the College of Law and the Institute of Professional Legal Studies. The provider you choose is optional, so I encourage you to check out what both have to offer.
The Profs program will include a mix of practical legal training that will help you develop practical skills that are often overlooked by many university courses. I found it a fantastic middle ground between graduating and begging work in the legal industry. Profs is approved for student loans and allowances through Studylink. Full payment is required before each programme starts.
The programmes are offered throughout the year in either 13 weeks of full-time study or 18 weeks of part-time study. You also have the option to complete the program remotely, allowing an incredible level of flexibility (awesome if you intend to complete the program over the summer or work full-time).
Once you have completed the program and paid any outstanding fees, you will receive a Certificate of Completion of the Professional Legal Studies Course.
Obtain a Certificate of Character
The next step is obtaining a certificate of character from the New Zealand Law Society.
The Certificate of Character states that the Law Society (the body that regulates lawyers) deems you a “fit and proper” individual to be admitted into the profession (as required under the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006). If the Law Society decides you are not fit and proper, you will need to apply to the High Court directly.
At least 16 weeks before the admission ceremony of your choice (see the available dates here), you must provide to your local law society;
- your application for a certificate of character
- your passport or birth certificate as proof of identity
- proof of name change if applicable
- statutory declaration
- and summary and court sentencing notes, if you have a conviction.
Additionally, other individuals/agencies will have to provide to the law society branch you have applied through
- referee reports
- certificate(s) of standing
- and criminal conviction history report.
The application form and the referee reports can be found here.
The application form will require you to provide general information including contact details, employment, and academic history, and details of who you intend to provide character/employer references on your behalf. Consult the application form and determine exactly how many character/employer referees you are required to provide, also list people you know who could qualify as a character reference. I found this part of the process especially difficult as the requirements of a character reference are notably stringent.
Once you have sorted your references, encourage each one to send their signed form to the law society branch you have applied through directly. Unless the form can be sent from a verifiable email address (such as a government email), your references will need to be couriered or dropped off.
The law society will then advertise your name on their website and do a background check. The main things they are looking for are your criminal history; any academic misconduct at all tertiary education institutions you have been to and that you are a suitable candidate in general.
Once satisfied that you meet all requirements, a certificate of character will be issued for you to pick up from the law society, as well as an invoice confirming your payment. It is important to understand that this certificate is only valid for 3 months so make sure you are prepared to complete the next stages of the application.
Apply for a Certificate of Completion
Not to be confused with the certificate of completion of the professional legal studies course. I know several people who made this mistake. This is administered by the Council of Legal Education and will take 6-8 weeks to be issued so it is important to apply for this in a reasonable amount of time. If like me, you are guilty of leaving this rather late, you will have the option to fast-track your application and the certificate should be dispatched within 8 working days.
As a part of the application, you will need to provide:
- The application form (found on the NZCLE website)
- Proof of payment
- A copy of your official university transcript showing completion of both your LLB degree and a Legal Ethics paper (If these are not shown on the transcript, you must show additional proof)
- A copy of your Profs certificate of completion
- A copy of your birth certificate or signed passport – certified by any of the following: a Justice of the Peace, Solicitor of the High Court, Notary Public, or Deputy Registrar at a court.
Applying to the High Court
You are so close! All you need to do now is file an application with the High Court to which you wish to be admitted. In most cases, this will be the city you are living in. However, if like me, you have moved for a job but still wish to be admitted with your Law School/Profs friends, you have the choice of where your admission ceremony is held.
First of all, you will need to organise a moving counsel. This is the person who asks the judge to admit you as a barrister and solicitor of the High Court. As admission is such an important occasion, ideally this would be a close friend or colleague with whom you wish to share this special moment. You can organise moving counsel through your local NZLS branch if this is not possible.
Your moving counsel must hold a current practising certificate. However, a retired legal practitioner can move you if they apply for a temporary practising certificate.
File an application
Secondly, roughly a month before your admission date, you will need to file an application with the High Court. This includes submitting an LA1, LA2, and LA5 form (all of which can be found here on the NZLS website).
- The LA1 form is an originating application made by your moving counsel. They will need to complete and sign this for you to hand in.
- The LA2 form is an affidavit of the candidate in support of their admission, this is to be completed by you. The LA2 form must include a copy of the certificate of completion, a copy of the certificate of character, and a copy of the invoice of the filing fee. These copies must each be signed and certified as correct.
- The LA5 form must be completed by everyone who wishes to hold a practising certificate after their admission. This will be signed by the registrar during your admission ceremony as an order to admit you as a barrister and solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand.
The documents must be either handed in in person or couriered. As most courts conduct multiple ceremonies on each admission date, you will then be able to tee up your admission time with mates from law school and profs.
Organise your admission attire
Finally, you will need to organise your admission attire. As provided by the Honourable Justice H D Winkelmann in her instructions,
“Candidates, along with their moving counsel, have the option to either wear traditional courtroom garb (wigs, bands, white shirt, and gowns) or a gown over neat clothing (white shirt and tie for men and equivalent dress for women).”
You must choose either one or the other as it isn’t appropriate to combine parts of the two options. An example would be a combination of a wig and a tie or bands over a tie). Traditional courtroom garb can be hired from Academic Dress Hire. They offer a country-wide service from their Auckland base.
Once your ceremony is complete, you’ll need to hand in your sealed order for admission (signed LA5 form) to the High Court.
Before you can officially practise as a lawyer, you must obtain an official practising certificate from the New Zealand Law Society (the required forms and information can be found here). This is extremely important as it is an offence to describe oneself as a lawyer without a practising certificate. This must be renewed on an annual basis.
Congratulations, you can now tell people you are a lawyer! This is an incredibly impressive milestone and all newly admitted lawyers should be very proud of their efforts. The team at AlexanderDorrington wish you all the best for a rewarding and fulfilling future in the legal profession.
If you have any questions, feel free to email me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Tom Phillips