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Legal Profession Tribunal warning

Briefs

Cite as: (2004) 78(9) LIJ, p. 14

The Legal Profession Tribunal (LPT) has called on sole practitioners overburdened by their work to seek professional assistance to stave off the possibility of breaching the law.

The LPT said that a number of sole practitioners had recently appeared before the Full Tribunal charged with offences involving breaches of the Legal Practice Act, Trust Account Practice Rules and the Professional Conduct and Practice Rules 2000.

This had led to concern over the workload of sole practitioners.

“The Full Tribunal is aware of the many and varied pressures on a sole practitioner, in particular in the conduct of a busy legal practice.

“No one can be expected to know the answer to every problem presented by a client.

“The stress and strain of coping with a busy practice can impair the efficient dealing with client files and as a consequence a number can find their way into the ‘too-hard basket’.”

The LPT said it encouraged busy practitioners faced with ethical or practical problems to use available services, such as the Law Institute’s Senior and Junior Counsellors Service for peer help and Law Care for psychological counselling.

The LPT made the comments in an addendum to a recent decision involving a sole practitioner who pleaded guilty to charges involving a failure to properly handle a client’s file.

The solicitor said a combination of limited staff, poor health and straitened financial circumstances led to loss of control over some files.

The solicitor was reprimanded, fined $12,000 and ordered to pay all of the Institute’s costs.

Institute president Chris Dale said the circumstances that led to the case and the comments by the LPT were of concern.

“The stresses and strains of legal practice in any area have only increased over time and in particular for the sole practitioner.

“There is not always a capacity to step back, take time out and have colleagues come in and assist you.”

He said the Institute was looking at ways to help sole practitioners, including improving the locum solicitor program. For more information on the locum solicitor program, contact the Institute’s human resources coordinator John Quinlan on tel 9607 9411.

For more information on the Institute’s Senior and Junior Counsellors Service, contact the Practitioners’ Information Centre on tel 9607 9470. For more information on Law Care, contact the 24-hour pager service on tel 9625 1388.

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