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  • Solicitors have a duty to be courteous in the course of legal practice.
  • Think carefully about what is included in correspondence. Try not to send letters or emails drafted in the heat of the moment.
  • Avoid making the client’s fight your own.
  • Give serious thought to offering a genuine apology to resolve disputes with fellow practitioners.

There is an increasing tendency for solicitors to resort to accusations of defamation during interpersonal conflict in professional dealings. Ultimately, such accusations and any subsequent defamation proceedings bring more heat than light to the practice of law. While a solicitor’s reputation is valuable, the issuing of defamation proceedings to protect that reputation from a perceived slight could have the opposite effect by publishing the dispute more widely – as well as being time consuming and, ultimately, detracting from the client’s position.

Defamation or private dispute ?

Defamation proceedings used to be predominantly brought against media organisations, and would typically relate to widespread publications. The recent cases of Wilson v Bauer Media [2017] VSC 521 and Gayle v Fairfax Media [2017] NSWSC 1261 are good examples of celebrities successfully disputing media articles published about them. But a survey of decisions made under the uniform Defamation Law revealed that fewer than half of the decisions involved claims against media organisations (Andrew T. Kenyon ‘Six Years of Australian Uniform Defamation Law: Damages, opinion and defence meanings’ UNSW Law Journal Volume 35(1) 2012). A significant number also included publication of defamatory comments to only one or two people.

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