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A new start and review of a problem file with a clear perspective after the holiday period, allows the opportunity for any lawyer to question what they are doing, to ensure that their actions are in accordance with professional ethics. This should be welcomed.

With the return to work in a new year and the commencement of the Law Term for 2023, it is perhaps timely to review the purpose and effect of the conduct Rules, which are “…to assist solicitors to act ethically and in accordance with the principles of professional conduct established by both the common law and the solicitors Rules…”

Lawyers by their nature are inquisitive, we are taught to reason and advance an argument to maximize the rights of our client and minimise their liabilities. In doing our utmost to achieve the best possible result for our client, we are required by necessity to test the boundaries, yet not breach them.

Because of this, a practitioner will be faced with ethical issues that are constantly being tested. From this process, it is hoped that compliance with ethical principles, will offer a lawyer a feeling of being protected more so than disciplined.

Law is undergoing unprecedented change and the role of lawyers is now more diverse than ever before. This has been in response to the growth in areas of law that previously were narrowly focused, or in many cases, did not exist a decade ago.

When the question is raised of the importance of ethics for legal practice, it is perhaps easier to consider the case in the alternate. When a lawyer acts in an unethical manner, the effect is both immediate and destructive. The need for ethics is often most clear when ethics are absent. Consequently, compliance with conduct rules is a necessity and it should be carefully noted that “…A breach of the Solicitors’ Rules is capable of constituting unsatisfactory professional conduct or professional misconduct….and may give rise to disciplinary action by the relevant regulatory authority….”[1]

If you have an ethics problem that seems impossible, we invite you to contact the ethics help line on (02) 9926 0114.

Best wishes for the New Year.

Paul Monaghan is a senior ethics lawyer at the Law Society of NSW