Ethics are the moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour. For legal practitioners, ethics take on an added level of importance. Alongside rules of professional conduct and the common law, ethical values act as a guide to proper behaviour for lawyers.
Navigating the ethical minefield can be a difficult prospect for many practitioners, but it is important that lawyers stay on the right side of morality as well as the law. Legal practitioners are subject to high ethical standards due to the prominent position they hold in the administration of justice. For this reason, and to maintain the reputation of the profession, lawyers must always act in a highly ethical manner.
On 22 September 2014 the Law Society adopted the Legal Profession Conduct Rules 2010 (as amended from time to time) as its ‘Code of Ethical Conduct’ and also adopted the following Summary of Ethical Principles:
We acknowledge the role of our profession in serving our community in the administration of justice. We recognise that the law should protect the rights and freedoms of members of society. We understand that we are responsible to our community to observe high standards of conduct and behaviour when we perform our duties to the courts, our clients and our fellow practitioners.
Our conduct and behaviour should reflect the character we aspire to have as a profession.
This means that as individuals engaged in the profession and as a profession:
- We primarily serve the interests of justice.
- We act competently and diligently in the service of our clients.
- We advance our clients’ interests above our own.
- We act confidentially and in the protection of all client information.
- We act together for the mutual benefit of our profession.
- We avoid any conflict of interest and duties.
- We observe strictly our duty to the Court of which we are officers to ensure the proper and efficient administration of justice.
- We seek to maintain the highest standards of integrity, honesty and fairness in all our dealings.
- We charge fairly for our work.
We observe faithfully our Code of Ethical Conduct.
This Summary of Ethical Principles has been adopted from the Law Society of New South Wales ‘Statement of Ethics’. The Law Society of New South Wales is thanked for allowing its adoption by the Law Society.
Relevant Brief articles
Practitioners’ conduct – professional and personal
- Professional obligations when practitioners act for themselves, June 2015
- When the personal becomes professional (conduct outside the practice of law), July 2014
- Trusting in the (lawyer’s) word): the need for lawyer honesty can’t be compartmentalised, March 2014
- Lawyers, powers and capacity, May 2012
- Pointing the finger – making allegations of misconduct against other practitioners, November 2011
- The social networker: when social networking sites can prove ethically dangerous, August 2011
- See also Ethical and Practice Guidelines on social media and cloud computing
- Respect in trying circumstances: maintaining civility and respect in dealings between lawyers can prove challenging, May 2011
- The plagiarist: a lawyer who plagiarises invites disciplinary sanction, March 2011
- The lawyer and client proposed illegality: how should lawyers ethically respond to illegality in client decision-making, August 2010
- Supervision of junior practitioners, threats of defamation, terminating a retainer, June 2010
- Getting up close and personal – a lawyer should not, generally speaking, communicate directly with the client of another lawyer, April 2010
Mediations and negotiations
- Editor’s Opinion: My final offer: the ethics of negotiation, August 2015
- Ethical and legal obligations in mediations and negotiations, August 2015
- See also Ethical and Practice Guidelines on negotiations
- Successively conflicted: confidentiality has proven the focus for successive conflict disqualification (acting against a former client), August 2015
- Doing the wrong thing for the right reason (acting for both parties), April 2015
- To keep a confidence (client confidentiality), May 2014