20 November 2019
Spectemur Agendo (let us be judged by our actions)
It is funny, the things that stay with you throughout your life. Although I cannot recall in too much detail what happened back in school, I remember the school motto (above). I probably do so because it has been useful to me throughout my life (both personal and professional) and it is a good thing for solicitors to keep front of mind.
We, in our noble and venerated profession must consider our actions carefully, as we will indeed be judged by them. That means that those actions must be good ones, carried out in the pursuit of worthwhile goals—good law, good lawyers and the public good. This is a task which requires constant vigilance, as the line between good actions and bad actions can be a fine one, and a little blurred at times too.
This is why if you have ever seen our Director of Ethics, Stafford Shepherd, presenting you will have heard him note that the Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules are not a code. That is, just because something is not specifically addressed in the rules does not mean that it is open slather on the issue. We are meant to understand the spirit of those rules, the ‘vibe’ if you like, and find ways to comply with those rules, not ways around them.
In light of this, I note the Society has had reports of behaviour that is, if not specifically ruled out by the rules and other legislation, something to be wary of.
For example, we hear of firms paying referral fees to real estate agents for exclusive referral rights. While referral fees are permitted, as long as rule 12 is fully complied with (the Ethics Committee have a guidance statement on this issue here), they remain a vexed issue. If a solicitor is dependent on the relationship with the agent for their ongoing business, a client may well question where the solicitor’s loyalty lies, especially if things go wrong.
Obviously in those circumstances the client must be fully aware of the referral fee being paid and the relationship with the agent. In addition, that fee can only come out of the solicitor’s profits. It should not show up anywhere else on a bill bearing an innocuous description. If a firm wishes to pay referral fees that is their business, but the client should not pay for being referred!
Similarly, Rule 33.1 B allows a solicitor to talk to the client of another solicitor for the purposes of giving a second opinion. That does not constitute an opportunity to criticise the work of the retained solicitor, or to provide a more favourable opinion in the hope of getting the client to transfer. The same can be said of advertising—spruik your own qualities for sure, but don’t denigrate your competition. We are a collegial profession and need to make sure we act that way.
In other words, have a think about your own actions. Would you be content to be judged by them?
The end of the year continues to rush towards us, and with it the QLS AGM (as well as an overdose of acronyms apparently!). The AGM will be on 11 December and we are trying something new this year—a lunchtime meeting. This will hopefully allow more members to attend, and I urge you to come along. You will get a snapshot of how your society is travelling and you can ask a question or two of council if you want.
It is now only five Fridays until Christmas—now that is scary! Not as scary, however, as the fact that many families are doing it tough even when it comes to putting food on the table. The drought is exacerbating a national hunger crisis and it will be pretty lean fare for many families this year.
Foodbank Australia does a wonderful job of addressing this shortage and I would urge all our members to donate to this charity and help make Christmas a happy one for all. That is an action you’d be happy to be judged by.
Bill Potts, QLS President
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