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From the CEO: Putting ethics first

Cite as: Jan/Feb 2015 89 (1/2) LIJ, p.06

This year will be full of new challenges for the legal profession.

By Nerida Wallace - LIV CEO

I was reminded recently of how important and unique our ethical framework is not just for our profession but for our clients and the community. The decisions that our members make every day are made in an ethical framework. How highly regarded this is by others was brought home when the LIV’s Ethics Department presented to the Australian Crime Commission to great acclaim. This aspect of legal work is often taken for granted and we should talk about it more often outside our professional discussions. It is a key reason LIV members are sought after in many fields. I hope you find this special issue a continuing useful resource in reinforcing that message every day.

2015 offers many challenges not least a new Victorian state government with a mixed cross bench and a need to rely on respected community voices to get legislation through. The LIV is already being called on for advice and I urge you to get involved on matters important to you. I have recently been told by government representatives how highly respected the LIV committees are, a message I passed on to those attending annual general meetings of each of the LIV’s expert sections. The LIV has proven capacity to make confidential submissions to proposed legislation by assembling some of the best lawyers to offer technical advice often with very little notice.

This shows that in these times of government restraint, professional bodies such as the LIV have great access, and are an invaluable link to government and opposition, with regular catch-ups. They seek our opinion, they come to us wanting our expertise. The profession’s interests are put forward as well as those interests important to all Victorians and through the Law Council of Australia (LCA) those on the national front. For example, on data retention the LIV is assisting the LCA, offering legislative solutions to government to get the balance right between privacy concerns and changing security needs.

The big issue for members already on the agenda is the Legal Profession Uniform Law, including new solicitors conduct rules all due for implementation on 1 July (see www.lsc.vic.gov.au). E-conveyancing is another and powers of attorney and succession changes are already underway with more professional training planned.

The 2014 Productivity Commission report on access to justice (http://tinyurl.com/oelrj7m) included recommendations for contingency fees. Supported by the LIV Council, these fees more readily allow members to act for the “missing middle” otherwise blocked by costs. The LIV has proposed working with the Victorian government on this recommendation.

Change may not be brought about by legislation alone and direct approaches are also necessary. The LIV has taken the initiative to research and work on practical outcomes for legal aid and family violence. PriceWaterhouseCoopers has been engaged by the LIV to work with the Criminal Law and Family Law Sections to develop better business models for our members. These will form the basis of ongoing discussions with Victoria Legal Aid and in turn will inform the government’s promised review.

The LIV was also asked by Chief Magistrate Peter Lauritsen to support the Family Violence Taskforce which is working on recommendations for practical solutions to increasing caseloads.

On members’ issues, 2015 has brought up two challenges that will have a big impact on the day to day work of practitioners. These are the new e-conveyancing rollout and the short form costs disclosure mandated form required under the new Uniform Law.

The e-conveyancing rollout is being met with specialist training from the LIV and this year online access to this training will be available. In addition, the Legal Services Board (LSB) is seeking to clarify the impact on the Public Purpose Fund of the new e-conveyancing processes and has advised that trust account holders may continue to direct trust monies into the general account. This will mean continued interest flowing into the fund which in turn supports legal aid, law reform and community legal centres, Victoria Law Foundation initiatives and LIV programs, including the referral service, and Justice Connect. Further details are expected from the LSB shortly and I would ask that you carefully review these.

Of great importance to members is the short form costs disclosure that under the new Uniform Law covers every transaction between legal practitioners and clients of a value between $750 and $3000. This month you will have been asked to communicate with the Uniform Legal Services Commissioner on how this will affect your business. The LIV continues to make these representations, including concerns by incorporated legal practitioners. Your input is invaluable and I thank the members who have already written in on this issue.

I wish you all the very best for this year and as always, do not hesitate to contact me.

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