IN AN attempt to raise the standard of ethics within the legal profession in Victoria, the Law Institute has launched a new ethics handbook for practising lawyers.
Attorney General Rob Hulls last week launched the Ethics Handbook: Questions and Answers, which he said would be an invaluable tool to enable legal practitioners to uphold their professional duties.
The book is the Law Institute of Victoria’s (LIV’s) latest initiative in its ongoing commitment to raising the standards of ethics in the profession. “In modern legal practice lawyers increasingly face a variety of ethical dilemmas and this handbook offers a practical resource for tackling these issues,” said LIV president Chris Dale.
The handbook should give law students an insight into the type of ethical problems that may arise in their legal careers, Dale said.
The book complemented the “suite” of other initiatives the LIV had implemented to educate the profession on ethical issues, he said. He added that a specialist Ethics Department and Ethics Liaison Group had also been established.
“While all practitioners gain a theoretical understanding of ethics during their study of the law, applying these principles is often difficult in practice,” Dale said at the launch. “This handbook will benefit practitioners because it provides actual examples of real life dilemmas and rulings of the Law Institute’s Ethics Committee.”
Lawyers have a duty to act in their clients’ best interest, to act with due skill and diligence and to avoid any conflict of interest, A-G Hulls said. They must also ensure they do not charge excessive legal costs and observe their duty to court and profession.
Ethics is not suddenly on the agenda for the LIV, CEO John Cain told Lawyers Weekly. For the last couple of years, the LIV had been placing it on the agenda and ethics was now included in its mandatory legal education program.
Cain said lawyers had responded enthusiastically to the handbook. It was something they would take seriously and lawyers had told the LIV it was a “terrific publication”, he said. “They said it was something that should have been done a long time ago.”
The handbook meant lawyers now had a “handy reference point when faced with ethical dilemmas regarding the legal services they provide,” Hulls said.
“It may mean that many potential problems are resolved before they impact on clients, thereby increasing the public’s confidence in the legal profession.”