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Taking the dilemma out of ethics


Cite as: December 2010 84(12) LIJ, p.28

Ethical dilemmas are familiar to all lawyers. But help is at hand in the form of the LIV's ethics guidelines.

Two new ethics guidelines have been endorsed by the LIV Council, bringing to 16 the number now published by the LIV.

The latest guidelines cover the release of trust money and direct marketing and are now available to practitioners. A further three were before the Ethics Committee at the time of going to press.

The guidelines are not legally binding but are designed to assist practitioners with ethical dilemmas and conduct issues.

LIV Ethics Department manager Donna Adams said the LIV was in an ideal position to identify which ethical issues practitioners were grappling with.

“We take up to 50 calls a week on our ethics advice line and if we start to see a pattern we will bring it to the attention of the Ethics Committee,” she said.

Each guideline is developed after a rigorous process that involves research, drafting and consultation.

The research may take months to undertake and can involve rigorous examination of legislation, case law, articles and barristers’ memos.

A guideline is then drafted for consideration by the Ethics Committee, which comprises past and present members of the LIV Council who serve in a voluntary capacity. The committee will continue the rigorous approach by thoroughly discussing the proposal and suggesting redrafting where appropriate.

Following Ethics Committee approval, the guideline goes to the LIV Council for final approval. This is an important part of the review and approval processes and the Council can also suggest further review. Approved guidelines are then regularly revised to take into account changes in legislation.

“While they are not legally binding, they are a good mechanism for two reasons,” Ms Adams said.

“They provide a starting point for those concerned they may have an ethical problem and they are a good back-up if there is pressure from a client to behave in an unethical manner.”

In addition to using the guidelines, members are encouraged to phone the ethics advice line at any time.

The Ethics Department website, under the Practising in Victoria section of the LIV website, provides information on common ethical dilemmas in areas such as conflicts of interest and client capacity, plus links to ethics resources.

Practitioners can also request a ruling from the Ethics Committee. Like the guidelines, its rulings are not legally binding but may be taken into consideration in court.

These rulings are published in the LIJ (see page 69 of this edition) and on the LIV website (

LIV president Steven Stevens said legal practitioners had to adhere to the highest ethical standards in order to promote confidence in the legal profession among clients and the wider community.

“Ethical issues are critical issues around the world and our Ethics Department is a leader in promoting the highest standards of conduct,” he said.

“It is active in providing ethical guidance to practitioners in the form of published guidelines on critical issues and via the ruling service provided by the Ethics Committee, serviced by the Ethics Department.”

For more information on the LIV Ethics Department ph 9607 9515 or email

“Curly” curriculum proves popular

The LIV’s ethics syllabus has been rated a “smashing success” a year after its introduction.

LIV Ethics Department manager Donna Adams said the LIV’s ethics telephone advice line ran hot after ethics seminars.

She said because the seminars raised awareness among lawyers of potential ethical dilemmas they faced, they were encouraged to use the advice line.

The LIV introduced a three-year seminar syllabus 12 months ago as part of its role in providing ethics advice to Victorian lawyers. It complements the LIV’s Ethics Committee rulings and telephone advice service, and its involvement in developing the new national conduct rules.

The CPD-compliant program consists of a one-hour module delivered annually for three years.

The first module deals with confidentiality, conflicts and professional mobility; the second with retainers, liens and client capacity; and the third with communications and undertakings.

“We talk to 2500 practitioners a year so we have this up-to-date information about the ethical dilemmas they face, which we use in the syllabus,” Ms Adams said.

“It is a rolling three-year syllabus so we have new material and case law to consider.”

Ms Adams said attendees liked the interactive nature of the sessions, particularly the Q&A workshops which generated feisty debate.

For further information ph 9607 9515 or email


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