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LIV launches ethics program

News

Cite as: (2003) 77(4) LIJ, p.25

The Law Institute has taken the next step towards its goal to improve the legal profession’s knowledge of ethics.

The Law Institute has launched a new program in a bid to improve the profession’s understanding and implementation of ethics.

About 60 law firms have agreed to each appoint a senior practitioner, to be called a designated ethics practitioner (DEP), to attend regular seminars, workshops and panel discussions on the latest ethics updates.

The DEPs will become the points of reference at their firms for any questions on ethical problems. They will meet regularly as the Institute’s Ethics Liaison Group to discuss ethics and develop policy in the area.

The first meeting will take place on 1 May.

Institute CEO John Cain said the ethics program was important for the profession to ensure the highest possible standards of ethical behaviour were maintained and improved, and for the public to have confidence in Victoria’s lawyers.

“The best way to do that is to have a forum where these issues are debated and where there is a proper process for that information to be disseminated through the firms,” Mr Cain said.

“The Institute’s role in this is to support and advise these designated ethics practitioners on what the issues are and what procedures and protocols they should establish in their firms.”

Sixty of the state’s largest firms were invited to establish the group, although the aim is to eventually open it to all practitioners.

Mr Cain said initial feedback from the inaugural firms was positive.

“Firms are embracing the stand the Institute is taking on ethics and there’s been a lot of encouragement to get out there and make this program work.”

Ethics Liaison Group convenor and member of Professional Standards Linda Baxter envisioned the group being used by its members as a problem-solving group, the same way as the Institute’s Ethics Committee is used. “It’s also a way to strengthen bonds between firms,” she said.

The program is an extension of ethics seminars that Ms Baxter has been running at firms for the past nine months.

“It’s important that firms don’t learn about ethical standards the hard way, which is after a complaint has been lodged. The best way to learn, for the firm, the profession and the client, is to find out more about ethics and then put it into practice,” Ms Baxter said.

“The issues around ethical issues are hardly ever black and white. This group is like a safe sounding board so partners and lawyers can safely discuss issues as they arise with an experienced practitioner.”

The group was launched on 27 February with speeches by Court of Appeal Justice Frank Vincent, St James Ethics Centre executive director Dr Simon Longstaff and Esanda managing director Elizabeth Proust.

Justice Vincent said the program was timely and deserved the strong support of the profession.

There was a corrosive cynicism within the community about areas such as the law that could only be stopped by the maintenance of a high standard of ethics, Justice Vincent said.

Dr Longstaff said the great enemy of ethics was an unthinking custom of practice.

“You know you are in trouble when you walk into an organisation and ask them why they do things the way they do and they say that that is the way everyone does it.”

For more information on the group, contact Linda Baxter on 9607 9421.

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