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How we can help

How we can help

By Donna Cooper

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The LIV Ethics Department and the Ethics Committee can help young lawyers with ethical dilemmas.

On 1 July 2015 the Legal Profession Uniform Law Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules 2015 replaced the previous conduct rules (known as the Professional Conduct & Practice Rules 2005). If you haven’t read the conduct rules yet, I encourage you to make it a priority. The conduct rules (although not an exhaustive list of our ethical duties) have been drafted to assist you to act ethically and in accordance with long established principles of professional conduct. Adhering to these principles promotes community confidence in the legal profession, assists you to maintain an unblemished practising history, and will contribute to strengthening your professional reputation.

The LIV Ethics Department runs a busy telephone advice line service for practitioners to confidentially discuss their ethical dilemmas. Often we receive calls from lawyers who are new to legal practice and who may be facing a range of different ethical issues. Some will be unsure about whether they may terminate a retainer with a difficult client, some may have spotted a conflict of interest warranting termination of the retainer although their supervisor does not agree, and some may simply be hoping for a better understanding of the practical application of a particular conduct rule to their situation.

The LIV Ethics Department also coordinates the LIV Ethics Committee which is comprised of senior legal practitioners who are either current or past LIV councillors. The Ethics Committee provides non-binding rulings to practitioners1 on ethical matters. Frequently the Ethics Committee is asked to determine whether, on the information provided, a law firm is conflicted from acting for or against a current or former client. However, not all requests to the Ethics Committee involve questions of conflict. Requests for rulings can span many different issues. Some examples include requesting guidance regarding money held in trust, whether confidential client documents may be released to a non-client, and clarification of the duty to the court where the client has made a misleading statement. There are many other examples, and these rulings, once de-identified, are published in the LIJ and on the LIV website and may be of precedent value to you in the future.

The LIV has also published a number of Ethics Guidelines covering a range of topics, from recommendations regarding advertising of legal service through to providing appropriately worded undertakings. In 2015 we published a new guideline Notices to produce in insolvency and bankruptcy (http://www.liv.asn.au/PDF/For-Lawyers/Ethics/FINAL---Insolvency-guideline---as-approved-by-Coun).

To understand how the conduct rules are applied practically, it can also prove helpful to review the disciplinary cases of other practitioners as published by VCAT. Reviewing these cases will provide you with some insight into how relations with a client can quickly deteriorate into conduct problems with distressing consequences for practitioners.

As your career progresses, you may find that the practice of ethics is quite different from the theory you learnt at university, so never be afraid to seek guidance from a senior practitioner within your firm or organisation, or telephone our Ethics Advice Line service. Most importantly, remember to invest the time to read the conduct rules from cover to cover. It should take you an hour or so, and it may help you in the future to identify potential ethical issues before they pose a problem.

Donna Cooper, LIV Ethics Department manager

1.To request a ruling from the LIV Ethics Committee you must be a member of the LIV.

Helpful resources

Practising lawyers may call the LIV’s Ethics Advice Line service on 9607-9336.

You may find the Legal Profession Uniform Law Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules 2015 at http://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/sessionalview/sessional/sr/
2015-244.pdf

You can find the LIV’s Ethics Guidelines at http://www.liv.asn.au/For-Lawyers/Ethics/Ethics-Resources/Ethics-guidelines

You may request an Ethics Committee Ruling by downloading the request forms from http://www.liv.asn.au/For-Lawyers/Ethics/Ethics-Committee

The Law Council of Australia has published a commentary to the conduct rules (published in August 2013) https://www.lawcouncil.asn.au/lawcouncil/images/LCA-PDF/a-z-docs/SolicitorsConductRulesHandbook_Ver3.pdf

The Queensland Law Society has published a commentary to the conduct rules: https://www.qls.com.au/About_QLS/Queensland_Law_Society/Resources_publications/The_Australian_Solicitors_Conduct_Rules_2012


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