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Lawyers and ethics: Ethics special issue

Feature Articles

Cite as: Jan/Feb 2015 89 (1/2) LIJ, p.33

Ethics are the hallmark of a profession, imposing obligations more exacting than any imposed by law and incapable of adequate enforcement by legal process.

"Ethics are the hallmark of a profession, imposing obligations more exacting than any imposed by law and incapable of adequate enforcement by legal process." So said former High Court of Australia Chief Justice Sir Gerard Brennan AC KBE QC in describing the importance of ethics to a meeting of the Queensland Bar Association in 1992.

This special issue of the LIJ is dedicated to lawyers’ ethics. Interesting and insightful contributions have been received from a Supreme Court judge of Appeal, an academic lawyer and ethicist, a litigation solicitor, the acting manager of the LIV Ethics Department and the chair of the LIV Ethics Committee. They should serve as a useful reminder to all lawyers of their ethical duties and obligations and be an invaluable resource for future reference.

As officers of the court, lawyers play an integral role in the administration of justice.

Lawyers owe paramount ethical duties to the court, the law, and the administration of justice to act both honourably and honestly, as Justice Emilios Kyrou of the Court of Appeal describes in his article “A lawyer’s duty”. These duties include the obligation not to mislead the court or allow it to fall into error and are owed to the court irrespective of any contrary instructions given by a client to the lawyer.

The University of Melbourne’s Professor Rufus Black has written a thought provoking article on the ethics of choosing clients.

He challenges law firms to consider the ethics of clients and their activities when deciding whether or not to act in matters where those activities may be morally questionable. He concludes that there are few areas of ethics as complicated as involvement with the ethics of others, but that navigating these issues successfully will repay the law firm positively in many ways.

Litigation solicitor Jonathan King reports on a recent ruling of the LIV Ethics Committee giving guidance on the ethics of potential plaintiff lawyers having pre-filing witness discussions with drivers of motor vehicles involved in transport accidents to ascertain whether or not negligence may be a factor in the accidents, thereby entitling certain classes of injured people to sue for common law damages.

Acting manager of the LIV Ethics department Michael Dolan writes on two topics – the ethics of communications and undertakings, and a lawyer’s ethical ability to terminate a client engagement before completion of the agreed professional services.

Finally, LIV Ethics Committee chair Richard Fleming writes about the work of the Committee which continues to provide ethical guidance and rulings for the benefit of the profession.

The LIJ thanks the authors and reviewers for contributing their expertise and time to this special edition and hopes that all lawyers will find the articles to be a valuable resource when confronted with ethics issues in daily practice.

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