But I was only helping my friends and acquaintances!

practice law


If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, but calls itself a chicken, chances are an ornithologist would call it a duck. So, too, the Supreme Court of Queensland has recently heard a case about a man who called himself a consultant while helping out his friends and acquaintances with their legal problems. Although Surendra Raghoobar told his clients that he wasn’t a lawyer,  and said that he didn’t do any lawyer-ish things, but charged his clients for his services, he argued that this meant he did nothing wrong. But the Court determined that he did do something wrong.

Who can give legal advice in Queensland?

The Court referred to section 24 of Queensland’s Legal Profession Act 2007, which states that a person must not engage in legal practice in Queensland unless the person is an Australian legal practitioner. It was an agreed fact that Mr Raghoobar was not a legal practitioner. The crux of the issue was whether Mr Raghoobar had “engaged in legal practice”. In the same legislation, the meaning of this phrase “includes practice law”.

What kind of activities are considered “legal practice”?

The Court considered the wide meaning of “practice law” by looking back at other cases in different States which had a similar issue:

  1. Cornall v Nagle: the case referred to a list of actions that mean ‘acting or practising as a solicitor’. It also referred to the test in Sanderson, which was “by doing something which, though not required to be done exclusively by a solicitor, is usually done by a solicitor and by doing it in such a way as to justify the reasonable inference that the person doing it is a solicitor.”
  1. Felman v Law Institute of Victoria: the case referred to the meaning of “engage in legal practice” by referring to the Oxford Dictionary, and determined that it means “engage in legal practice as a legal practitioner”.
  2. Legal Services Commissioner v Bradshaw: the case went through the meaning of “engage in legal practice” and “practise law” which the court considered were the professional equivalent of “carry on business”. But this meaning was not adopted by Daubney J in Legal Services Commissioner v Walter, which preferred the phrase to “invoke the notion of carrying on or exercising the profession of law, not the “business” of law.”
  3. Legal Services Commissioner v Walter: a number of practices that had been engaged in were considered to be central to the work of legal practice:
  • advising parties regarding law and procedure for litigation.
  • assisting parties to prepare for litigation.
  • drafting court documents for parties.
  • drafting legal correspondence on behalf of parties.
  • acting as a party’s agent in litigation.
  • Being paid to write written submissions.

What did Mr Raghoobar do?

Although he was awarded a Bachelor of Laws degree by the University of Kent, after moving to Australia he worked as a consultant for different law firms. He did not register as a legal practitioner at any time. Mr Raghoobar’s argument was that he never presented himself to his clients as being a person who engaged in the provision of legal services. Instead, he argued that he was proof-reading and editing documents that his clients had written for their court proceedings, and that he had provided assistance to them, among other things.

The Legal Services Commissioner relied on evidence that it had found at Mr Raghoobar’s residential address, which included binders bearing the name of the client, the subject matter, and contents including documents filed in courts, copies of client and party correspondence, and tax invoices bearing the charges of his services to the clients under the company name SR Dep Services. The Court found that there had been a significant amount of documents and correspondence which came within the meaning of “practice law” as provided by the common law understanding of the term.

The court found that the fact that Mr Raghoobar clearly told his clients that he was merely a consultant and not a legal practitioner had no effect on the fact that his conduct amounted to engaging in legal practice, as it considered this to be an objective consideration based on the facts and evidence, not a subjective consideration based on what he thought or intended to do. He had admitted to assisting his clients to understand the court processes and what was needed to be done or what was appropriate to be done in the circumstances. 

What happened in the end?

The court ultimately ruled that Mr Raghoobar had, in fact, engaged in legal practice, and restrained him from engaging in legal practice in Queensland when not an Australian legal practitioner. This decision highlights the fact that you can’t just help out your mates and acquaintances with their legal problems and get paid for it, even if you’re honest with them and tell them that you’re not a lawyer.

Pannu Lawyers extensively practices in Family Law, Criminal Law and regularly appear at the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, which has court locations in Parramatta (NSW) and Dandenong (VIC). We are conveniently located within a walking distance from the Blacktown train station and can accommodate after hour appointment to suit you. Call our office on 02 9920 1787 or 1300 VAKEEL to discuss your matter in a confidential manner.

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