Already there is much smacking of chops at the fresh horizons that will open up now that some of the ethical standards have been compromised under the new solicitors’ conduct rules.
The new regime has been adopted by SA, Qld and, as of January 1, NSW. Victoria has agreed in principle, but has yet to set a date. WA is holding out for the purer standards that it can set for itself.
Among the most juicy, are amendments to the old rule against acting for more than one party. This change comes courtesy of the “large firm members” on the Law Council.
For instance, the current rule 9 in NSW says that solicitors must cease to act for all the parties in proceedings or transactions if “obliged to act in a manner contrary to the interests of one or more of them”.
Not so under the revised national ethical landscape.
The new rule 11 is a fabulous confection of convoluted loopholes.
Informed consent is preserved, but where an actual conflict arises between the duties owed to two or more clients, the solicitor or law practice may continue acting, provided that things are stuffed behind a Chinese wall.
This suits the large firms down to the ground.
The Law Council’s commentary on new rule 11 runs to six pages, reminding us that the longer the commentary the dodgier the rule.
Then there is rule 12, widening the field to accommodate solicitors’ own interests and referral fees. This conflicts with rule 4.1.4:
“A solicitor must also … avoid any compromise to their … professional independence.”
Comparisons between the old and new rules in NSW can be found here.
Sydney based law ethics guru Neil Watt, who had a hand in the formulation of the new conduct rules (although steadfastly opposed to rules 11 & 12) volunteered his services for free to conduct seminars for the Law Society.
Instead, the Law Society turned the occasion into a nice little money spinner and charged to bring members up-to-speed on the new rules (at a reduced rate of $40 a head to cover “costs”).
In the end the College of Knowledge ran Watt’s seminars for free and all were booked out in seconds.
This seems like a weird turn of events. The College of Law is a commercial business, but provided the seminars without charge. The Law Society is supposed to be a not-for-profit, partially government funded, operation yet extracted a nifty fee from its members for what is an essential service.