A newish conduct rule compels solicitors to report every dishonest act by another practitioner, and every act which is prejudicial to the administration of justice or which would diminish public confidence in its administration. This is not just my fancy; the Law Institute itself says that the rule requires dobbing in and is not only about self-reporting. Relevantly, rule 30 of the Professional Conduct and Practice Rules 2005 says (and this is not a quote): Continue reading “Dob-in rule lurks in Victorian solicitors’ practice rules”
In the case of Brogue Tableau Pty Ltd v Tottle Partners  WASC 273, Master Sanderson of the Supreme Court of Western Australia, exercised the Court’s inherent jurisdiction to restrain a firm from acting to protect the administration of justice. The fees they had charged their client, and which they were seeking against the other side on behalf of the client, seemed inexplicably high. The other side suggested they had overcharged, and the judge said the administration of justice could not tolerate them continuing to act in those circumstances. Continue reading “Lawyer claiming inexplicably high fees against other side restrained from acting”
In Geelong School Supplies Pty Ltd v Dean  FCA 1404, the facts and outcome of which are described in the previous post, Justice Young went to some lengths to summarise the law on the third basis articulated by Brooking JA in Spincode for restraining solicitors from acting. The relevant parts of the decision are reproduced below. Continue reading “The administration of justice ground for restraining solicitors from acting summarised”
I have never understood what it is about Justice Brooking’s extended obiter on the fiduciary duty of loyalty in Spincode Pty Ltd v Look Software Pty Ltd (2001) 4 VR 501 which prompted such apoplexy. I would have thought that the second most obvious conflict of duties (after acting concurrently for two opposing parties) would be to swap sides in the one dispute. I think it is in fact this: people hear “duty of loyalty” and think “I can’t act against anyone I’ve ever acted for? No way!” But the only content of the duty of loyalty is not to “take up the cudgels against a former client in the same or a closely related matter”. What’s not to like about such a proposition? Nevertheless, it is a substantial departure from the House of Lords’s position and finds little favour in NSW. Continue reading “Law Institute Journal tallies the score on Spincode”
The Bar has produced a practice guide. It is a great achievement and stands as a beacon for the Law Institute’s future efforts at promulgating knowledge of the practice rules. The Bar actually has something called the Professional Standards Education Committee. Written by Roisin Annesley, it was launched by Victoria Marles, the Legal Services Commissioner on 18 October 2006, and distributed free to every member of the Bar. Annesley has done a lot of work as Counsel Assisting the Legal Profession Tribunal (and continues to do occasional work assisting the Legal Practice List at VCAT). A doyen of professional discipline, Paul Lacava SC, and a judge who has excoriated Professional Standards, Justice Gillard, are credited with substantial involvement. It has chapters on: Continue reading “Roisin Annesley’s Victorian Barristers’ practice guide”
Solicitors’ Practice (Conflict) Amendment Rule 2004
(a) This rule sets out provisions for dealing with conflicts of interest other than
those conflicts in relation to conveyancing, property selling or mortgage
related services which are dealt with in rule 6.
(b) This rule applies to a regulated individual and a regulated practice.
(c) Conflicts between the duty of confidence and duty of disclosure owed by an
individual or a practice to two or more clients are dealt with in rule 16E. Continue reading “Detailed new conflict rules commence in England”
The little guy in the centre is Lord Justice Mummery of the English Court of Appeal, an Oxford man shown here awarding some trophies at Oxford. He wrote the lead judgment in Gus Consulting GMBH v LeBoeuf Lamb Greeme & Macrae  EWCA 683 handed down in late May. The American law firm against which the injunction was sought wheeled out Lord Neill of Blanden QC, a former judge, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, Chairman of the Bar Council, Chairman of the Senate of the Inns of Court, Chairman of the Press Council, director of The Times, legal adviser to the Synod of the Church of England, and Chairman of the Committee of Enquiry into Regulatory Arrangements at Lloyds. About as English as a pork pie, and a one-time member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life to boot. He got a difficult argument across the line.
A law firm discovered that it was acting in a dispute “which involve[d] a consideration of work they themselves did for those clients [7 to 8 years previously] and an attack on the honesty and integrity of their former clients in those very transactions”. Worse, the conflict had been missed when the lawyers who were mounting the attack on the former client joined the firm, bringing the new client with them. But until the conflict was noticed, the month after the lawyers’ move, the new members of the firm had been oblivious to the work previously done by it for the people they were now attacking, and steps were quickly put in place to prevent any access to the former client’s files. The Court refused an injunction sought by the former client enjoining the firm from acting against it, finding the Chinese wall to be efficacious. This is a case which falls squarely within what is governed by the Victorian Court of Appeal’s duty of loyalty to former clients: the taking up of cudgels against a former client in relation to the same or a related matter.
Having read many conflict cases, I strongly suspect cases involving mergers result in injunctions much more rarely than others. Furthermore, the fact that the injunction would have resulted in the loss to the new client of a legal team which had obviously been engaged for 3 years in a complicated dispute must have been a matter of great influence, though it is an entirely hidden factor in the reasons.
So the former client cannot enjoin its former lawyers from taking up the cudgels against it in a related matter. But what is to stop the new client of the firm from suing it for breach of the duty of disclosure (which is the duty which conflicts with the duty to keep the former client’s information confidential in these kinds of cases) when it fails to disclose that which it has undertaken to the Court not to disclose though it is relevant and “goes to the heart of” a key issue in the arbitration?
Conway v Ratiu  EWCA Civ 1302,  1 All ER 571 (note),  All ER (D) 103 (Nov) (full decision) English Court of Appeal (Auld LJ gave the lead decision with which Laws and Sedley LJJ agreed)
This report is an extract of 10 paragraphs from a defamation case in which, somehow or other, it was necessary to consider the nature of the solicitor’s fiduciary duty to the client. Lord Millett said in the leading modern English authority on conflicts between duties of confidentiality and of disclosure (that is, current client / past client conflicts) that the fiduciary duty terminates with the retainer, leaving only a duty of confidentiality. That is in a sense the principle taken issue with by Brooking JA in Spincode. Lord Justice Auld noted the principle had been wound back in Hilton v Barker Booth and Eastwood (a firm)  UKHL at -, and this proposition from Longstaff v Birtles  EWCA Civ 1219 was cited with approval:
“The source of the [fiduciary] duty is not the retainer itself, but all the circumstances (including the retainer) creating a relationship of trust and confidence, from which flow obligations of loyalty and transparency. As long as that confidential relationship exists the solicitor must not place himself in a position where his duty to act in the interests of the confiding party and his personal interest … may conflict”. Continue reading “Conway v Ratiu: solicitors’ fiduciary duties”
Legal Services Commissioner v JAF  VCAT 581 (Cullity, Shattock, Hannebury) Acting for vendor and purchaser; conflict between duty and interest (of solicitor’s associate)
The Full Tribunal were not impressed with this solicitor who acted for the vendor and the purchaser which was a trust of which his wife was a beneficiary, but did the rule they relied on extend to prohibit acting in the face of a conflict between duty and the interest of an associate? Continue reading “Misconduct in acting in face of duty and associate’s interest conflict”
The Law Institute prosecuted a solicitor for misconduct constituted by simply missing a time limit. That failed, as did most of the other charges. But he was convicted of unsatisfactory conduct in not telling his client for two years that he had missed a crucial time limit, giving rise to a conflict between duty and self-interest. After 3 days of hearings, the solicitor was fined $1,000 and ordered to contribute only a fraction of the Law Insitute’s costs.