Why you need a practising certificate
It is the statutory responsibility of each solicitor to ensure that they have a practising certificate in force before providing legal services of any kind whatsoever, either restricted or non-restricted.
It is professional misconduct and a criminal offence for a solicitor (other than a solicitor in the full-time service of the State, or a solicitor solely engaging in conveyancing services for a non-solicitor employer) to practise without a practising certificate. A solicitor shall be deemed to practise as a solicitor if he or she engages in the provision of legal services of any kind, either restricted or non-restricted. ‘Legal services’ are services of a legal or financial nature provided by a solicitor arising from that solicitor’s practice as a solicitor.
It should be noted that, as set out in the practice note “Prohibition on practising as a solicitor without a practising certificate; solicitors cannot be ‘legal executives’ or ‘paralegals’” as published in the Gazette in July 2009, and again in February 2012, it is not permissible for a firm to classify a solicitor employed by a firm as a ‘legal executive’ or ‘paralegal’, or any other non-solicitor job title, with a view to avoiding the requirement to hold a practising certificate, if the solicitor is engaged in the provision of legal services.
It should also be noted that, as set out in the practice note “In-house solicitors – requirement to hold a practising certificate” as published in the Gazette in July 2014, in-house solicitors (solicitors practising as a solicitor by providing legal services as an employee of a non-solicitor) are required to hold a practising certificate regardless of the areas of law in which they practise.
The actions that can be taken against a solicitor found to be practising without a practising certificate include a referral to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, an application to the High Court, and a report to An Garda Síochána.
Practising certificate application forms and fees
Application forms for solicitors in private practice will be forwarded to the principal or the managing partner in each practice, rather than each solicitor. Application forms for in-house solicitors will be sent for their attention directly.
When you must apply
A practising certificate must be applied for on or before 1 February in each year in order to be dated 1 January of that year and thereby operate as a qualification to practise from the commencement of the year.
It is therefore a legal requirement for a practising solicitor to deliver, or cause to be delivered, to the Registrar of Solicitors, on or before close of business on 1 February 2018, an application in the prescribed form correctly completed and signed by the applicant solicitor personally, together with the full appropriate fee. The onus is on each solicitor to ensure that his or her application form and fee is delivered on or before 1 February 2018.
It is the responsibility of each solicitor to ensure that they obtain a practising certificate application form, complete it properly and deliver it to the Law Society with full payment on or before 1 February 2018. Applications should be delivered to the Regulation Department of the Society at George’s Court, George’s Lane, Dublin 7; DX 1025 Four Courts. It should be noted that 1 February 2018 falls on a Thursday. Solicitors are strongly advised to send their application with full payment by registered post or courier.
A valid practising certificate application consists of a properly completed application form together with full payment. It should be noted that any incorrectly completed application form, or applications without full payment attached (or properly completed EFT form attached), will be considered to be an incomplete application, cannot be processed and will be returned. Practising certificates will be dated for the date that the Society actually receives a properly completed application with full payment.
What happens if you apply late?
Any applications for practising certificates that are received after 1 February 2018 will result in the practising certificate being dated for the date of actual receipt by the Registrar of Solicitors, rather than 1 January 2018. There is no legal power to allow any period of grace under any circumstances whatsoever.
Please note that, as mentioned above, you cannot provide legal services as a solicitor without a practising certificate in force. Therefore, solicitors whose practising certificate applications are received after 1 February 2018 and whose practising certificates are therefore dated after 1 February 2018, who have provided legal services before that date, are required to make an application to the President of the High Court to have their practising certificates backdated to 1 January 2018. Further information on backdating practising certificates can be obtained on the Society’s website in Practising Certificate/Membership or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
It should be noted that the Society will seek its costs of €350 per practising certificate backdated in all cases.
The Regulation of Practice Committee is the regulatory committee of the Society that has responsibility for supervising compliance with practising certificate requirements. A special meeting of the committee will be held on a date after 1 February 2018, to be decided at a later date, to consider any late or unresolved applications for practising certificates. At this meeting, any practising solicitors who have not applied by the date of the meeting for a practising certificate will be considered for referral forthwith to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, referral to An Garda Síochána, and will be informed that the Society reserves the right to take proceedings for an Order under section 18 of the Solicitors (Amendment) Act 2002 to prevent them from practising illegally.
If you are an employed solicitor
Solicitors who are employed should note that it is the statutory obligation of every solicitor who requires a practising certificate to ensure that he or she has a practising certificate in force from the commencement of the year, or from the date at which he or she commenced providing legal services in that year. Employed solicitors cannot absolve themselves from this responsibility by relying on their employers to procure their practising certificates. However, it is the Society’s recommendation that all employers should pay for the practising certificate of solicitors employed by them. It should be noted that the practising certificate remains the property of the solicitor, regardless of who has paid for the practising certificate.
Some of your details are already on the application form
The practising certificate application forms will be issued with certain information relating to each solicitor’s practice already completed. Such information will include the relevant fees due by each solicitor, including allowance for solicitors of 70 years or over, as they will not be covered under the provisions of the Solicitors’ Group Life Scheme.
Payment by electronic funds transfer (“EFT”)
All practising certificate application forms sent out will include an EFT payment form. Any solicitor wishing to pay the practising certificate fee by EFT must complete and return the EFT payment form with their practising certificate application form. Failure to do so will result in the application form being returned as incomplete, notwithstanding that the fees may actually have been received by the Society.
Each EFT payment must have an easily identifiable specific reference, listed on the application form itself, or a reference such as the firm or company name, the solicitor’s name or the solicitor’s number. General references such as “Law Society” or “practising certificate” will not be accepted and may result in a significant delay in the issuing of the practising certificate as the Society may not be able to identify your specific payment without an easily identifiable specific reference. The payment reference used must be included in the EFT form. Failure to include this information will result in the application form being returned as incomplete, notwithstanding that the fees due may actually have been received by the Society.
The Society's bank account details are included in the EFT payment form. The Society cannot be held responsible for any delay which occurs in processing applications to obtain a practising certificate where payment has been forwarded to another Law Society account which does not deal with practising certificate/membership fees. You are required to ensure that the monies have been sent to the correct account as listed in the EFT payment form regardless of the account to which you sent the fees in previous years.
Please note that the EFT payment of fees must ensure that the moneys are received in the Society’s bank account on or before 1 February 2018. It may take more than 5 working days for the fees to be received into the Society’s bank account.
Law Directory 2018
It is intended that the Law Directory 2018 will note all solicitors who have been issued with a practising certificate by 16 February 2018. Practising certificates can only be issued following receipt of a properly completed application form together with full payment, with no outstanding queries raised thereon. It should be noted that only those solicitors with practising certificates issued by 16 February 2018 will be included in the Law Directory, not every solicitor who has submitted an application form by 16 February 2018.
Therefore, in order to ensure that your practising certificate issues by 16 February 2018 to enable you to be included in the Law Directory, you should ensure that the application form you return to the Society is completed correctly and includes full payment of fees due. If the form is not completed correctly, or fees have not been paid in full and received by the Society, or the EFT form has not been included in the case of EFT payments (notwithstanding that the fees due may actually have been received by the Society), it will be necessary for the Society to mark your application as incomplete, which may result in delaying the issue of your practising certificate, despite the fact that you had applied for the practising certificate prior to 16 February 2018.
The details of any solicitor whose practising certificate issues after 16 February 2018 will not be included in the Law Directory, but will be included in the 'Find a Solicitor' search facility on the Society's website, provided the solicitor is a practising solicitor. A practising solicitor is a solicitor with a current practising certificate and either professional indemnity insurance in place or an exemption from holding professional indemnity insurance as a solicitor employee of a non-solicitor employer.
What can you access on the website?
Your individual pre-populated application form will also become available on the Solicitors' area of the Law Society website in the PC section in early January 2018, which you can complete and return online to the Society with the full appropriate fee. This area is accessible by using your username and password. If you require assistance, please visit the Help page or email email@example.com. In addition, you may request a form to be emailed to you by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you did not hold a practising certificate for 2017
If you did not hold a practising certificate for 2017 (with the exception of solicitors in the full-time service of the State in 2017 and solicitors solely engaging in conveyancing services for a non-solicitor employer), and apply for a practising certificate in 2018, you may be required to make a "Section 61" application, in accordance with section 49 of the Solicitors Act 1954 as substituted by section 61 of the Solicitors (Amendment) Act 1994, setting out in writing how you kept up to date with legal matters since you were last issued with a practising certificate. The Section 61 application form is available to download in the Solicitors' area of the Society's website under Practising Certificate/Membership, or can be requested by emailing email@example.com.
Change of practising status
If you held a practising certificate in 2017, and do not intend to practise for some or all of 2018, including the following situations, you should notify the Society in writing with the relevant details before 1 February 2018:
- you recently ceased to practise, or are intending to cease to practise in the coming year;
- you will not be practising in 2018 for any reason, including unemployment, career break, change of career, emigration, sick leave or maternity leave; or
- you will not be providing legal services, and will therefore not be applying for a practising certificate until after 1 February 2018 for any reason, including unemployment, career break, sick leave and maternity leave.
You should provide the Society with a current correspondence address and email address to allow the Society to communicate with you if you are not practising. If there is any change in your practising status during the year, you should immediately notify the Society in writing with the relevant information to ensure that your practising status is up to date.
Change of practice
If you have changed firms during the year, and have not previously notified the Society in writing of this change, you must do so immediately, in accordance with the provisions of section 81 of the Solicitors Act 1954. You should include the date you left your former firm, and the date you joined your new firm, together with the name and address of the new firm. The same requirement applies for any solicitor who has changed non-solicitor employer.
Failure to provide this information may result in your practising certificate application form and information being sent to your former practice, as the Society will not have your up-to-date contact information. You can check the current contact information held by the Society for you through the 'Find a Solicitor' search facility on the Society's website.
Acknowledgment of application forms
Please note that it is not the Society's policy to acknowledge receipt of application forms or fee payments. It is the Society’s strong recommendation that applications be sent by registered post, tracked DX or courier.
Issuing a practising certificate
Please note that acceptance of an application form and fees by the Society does not constitute a guarantee or agreement that a practising certificate will be issued. There are a number of factors that may result in the Society deciding not to issue a solicitor with a practising certificate, including matters arising under section 49 of the Solicitors Act 1954, as substituted by section 61 of the Solicitors (Amendment) Act 1994, as amended by section 2 of the Solicitors (Amendment) Act 2002. If a practising certificate is not issued to a solicitor, the relevant fees will be refunded.
Duplicate practising certificate
Please note that a fee of €50 will be payable in respect of each duplicate practising certificate issued for any purpose.
Full guidance notes
Full guidance notes on practising certificate applications can be found on the Society’s website under Practising Certificate/Membership. Please note that each applicant is required to read the guidance notes in full and confirm that they have read and understood same in the statutory declaration in the application form.
Registrar of Solicitors and Director of Regulation