6 March 2019
Solicitor does great things for our community!
How often do we read that headline, instead of the one I just finished reading about a lawyer doing the wrong thing — this time allegedly swindling money from clients via fake investment schemes? Unfortunately, I cannot say with confidence that by the time you read this, another lawyer will not be making the news for the wrong reasons. Yet for the thousands who go about their business honestly and ethically every day, only about 2% will do the wrong thing – but with that, the reputation of all those thousands of honest, ethical, hardworking solicitors, is tarnished.
At the moment it seems you cannot look at the news without reading about the alleged antics of lawyers — Barristers and Solicitors alike, who are first and foremost officers of the court. That kind of news gets to us all. Naturally it makes us hang our head and want to wish it away, but all good lawyers know that is not the answer. Leadership involves the courage to confront the wrongs of the few, not resile from them. This is where the Solicitors of Queensland excel. We have the courage to confront these problems head on, because despite the apparent plethora of ‘dodgy lawyers’ out there, they are in fact a tiny percentage of what, is in large part, a noble and ethical profession.
We have every reason to walk tall, to keep our heads up and be proud of the great good we solicitors do. We know that those of us who strive for integrity in our profession are in fact those who are a part of the solution to the problem. Being involved in that conversation — and the actions to prevent further transgressions by our profession — is crucial. We do this by demonstrating the positive impact of self regulation. In short, if we don’t demonstrate the truth and value in self regulation, others will fill that void.
Another reason to confront this head-on is to ensure that we bring balance and accuracy to the breathless and guileful reporting that can accompany such scandalous behaviour. Case in point is the most recent reporting of an arrest of a former lawyer, who had in fact not held a practising certificate for more than a decade. The fact that most of his offending was done after he left the profession has curiously been omitted from the news reports.
There is no doubt of course that in all professions, trades, and industries there are rogue operators. The difficulty for the legal profession is that our transgressions are now given a prominence which creates the impression that we are beset with wrongdoers. While having the media critique the work of lawyers (or any profession) is welcome and indeed a hallmark of open and democratic societies, those efforts must be well-informed to achieve their purpose. At the other end of the spectrum, the reports with which we are spectacularly and salaciously deluged in relation to lawyer X (and the consequences that flow from the alleged egregious conduct of this Victorian barrister turned police informant) are of dubious benefit.
We can choose to get caught up in the prurient aspects of these events or we can turn our minds and attention to prevention and reparation of a profession damaged by the failings of a few. We can start with boundaries. Just as much as we place boundaries around what we take from the reporting of these events, we know that those same boundaries applied in our dealings with clients and those engaged in the system go a long way to preventing these transgressions in the first instance.
While the courts will deal with any trial and punishment deemed necessary, it falls to us to work at the prevention and reparation side of things for the Solicitors branch. For that reason, we are focussing on and giving prominence to these issues at the Society’s 2019 Symposium on 15 and 16 March (and please note registrations close on 12 March).
Maintaining the ethical and moral standards of our profession is vital. Our advocacy voice is only as powerful as our ranks are credible, and our advocacy is sorely needed at the moment.
Unfortunately some sections of the media regularly assail our judiciary, advancing their corporate view of the result, rather than any objective reporting of the issues, process and outcomes. The venomous response from some to the conviction of George Pell is a staggering attack on the rule of law and democracy itself. Sadly, some of those critics have a legal education or claim the title of lawyer, although if they were worthy of that title their responses would be based on reason rather than rage.
Whether or not the Pell conviction stands is a matter for the court of appeal, but the response in certain legal quarters to the initial verdict, shows that our commitment to good law, good lawyers and the public good has never been more needed.
In times like these we have to stand proudly and firmly for the rule of law and the independence of our fine bench — to meet outrage with reason, and counsel patience over pitchforks. Our duty to the court and the administration of justice can seem a burden, but in dark times it is a beacon, clear and consistent; there is, I think, great comfort in that.
Bill Potts, QLS President
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