CLIENT-CENTRED ‘lawyering’ may come at a price, legal specialists from two Sydney universities said at a session at the recent International Bar Association (IBA) conference in Auckland.
Acknowledging it was a good thing that legal services are more client-centred and person-oriented, Frank Astill, director of the University of Sydney’s Law Extension Committee, and Geoff Monahan, associate professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology, Sydney, said that as with most things called ‘progress’, there will probably be a price to pay.
The shifting of responsibility to the client in terms of diagnoses and acceptance of treatment may not have been matched by the level of skills required to make an informed judgment, Astill and Monahan said.
When legal services are client-centred, there is an increasing necessity to predict the outcome of an action and accurately quantify costs at a very early stage, they said. But this may entrench very conservative, safe, financially dominated strategies at the expense of the client’s actual wishes or the development of law.
“It may also lead to an upsurge in practices that skirt the border of ethics and codes of conduct, such as various and creative contingency arrangements and broad disclaimers,” Astill and Monahan said.
The speakers also warned that the persona of the competent lawyer may be redefined by client-centred lawyering. “Distinctions are not so difficult at the extremities, between say the dictatorial expert who always knows what is best for the client and embodies the stereotype that once the matter is taken on, the client becomes irrelevant, and the benevolent counsellor who puts all decision-making back onto the client without any obvious outlay of expertise.”
The client is increasingly portrayed as a person first, rather than a matter, or a file, or a billable 90 minutes, the speakers said.