LAWYERS ARE redefining themselves as business players as well as professionals, placing professional ethics at risk, according to Queensland Law Society president, Joe Pinder.
Pinder told Lawyers Weekly that firms were being run with more of a business mentality, largely due to outside forces such as competition from the accounting profession.
“I think accountants were far quicker to take up that lead and to make their practices businesses. They had some dalliances into trying to run legal firms. They now compete with lawyers in a number of areas, including trusts and estate planning and those types of things. So I tend to think that the accountants dragged us along,” he said.
However, in contrast to accountants, Pinder said that lawyers operate under more stringent ethical obligations — including obligations to their colleagues and the court that override their obligations to themselves and their clients.
“This places significant pressure on the legal profession. When you’re dealing with something, you can’t just say, ‘I’m undertaking this particular matter for a client and the client has told me to do X. I’ll do X’. You’ve got to make sure that you act ethically; that you comply with a whole host of legislative guidelines that might be imposed on you; that you discharge your duty to your colleagues; that you discharge your duty to the court.
“In the type of work I do, which is litigious work, if you had some material and said to the client, ‘This stuff exists’ and they said, ‘Well fine, that’s prejudicial, I’m instructing you not to disclose it’, you couldn’t do that,” Pinder said.
“There would be a legislative requirement. There would be the rules of court that would compel you to do it and you’ve got a duty not to mislead your colleagues and a duty not to mislead the court. So if you were in that situation you would have to say to the person, ‘You either accept the advice or bye bye, you go and get another lawyer’; and those things don’t restrain accountants or other professions to the same extent. So there are internal conflicts in the course of working as a lawyer that you have to resolve.”
Pinder warned that lawyers must not allow professional ethics to become a casualty of the increasing number of business considerations permeating their work.
“I think that there is pressure for the profession to perform as a business, so we really need to keep our eye on the ball about what we know the core values and obligations on us as a profession are,” he said.