Proctor : February 2018
17 PROCTOR | February 2018 Melissa Raassina is acting editor of Proctor and media and public relations advisor at Queensland Law Society. With over 250 publications to his name, and a career spanning equity, legal ethics, costs and tax, and other areas, Professor Gino Dal Pont has made a name for himself as the go-to author for many legal practitioners. Dal Pont’s publications are widely used within both the Australian legal profession and the courts, and he also inspires the next generation of lawyers through his lectures at the University of Tasmania’s School of Law. His unique combination of both admitted solicitor and certified practising accountant provide him with a varied perspective on what it means to be ethical in today’s professional world. When speaking about his initial interest in legal ethics, Dal Pont cited interest over passion as the starting point. This beginning spark would springboard his career into a life of ethics and academia – not a path he initially expected to pursue. “When I was an accounting student, a core unit involved the study of accounting ethics,” he said. “We were informed on the importance of ethics and how a profession required a ‘code’ of ethics. But what surprised me was that this was never mentioned during my law degree. “This piqued my interest, and when I had the opportunity to study in the United States, I did some work on legal ethics. It was mandatory to study legal ethics as part of the US law degree, and had been for over 40 years in the aftermath of Watergate. “They had this thought that if ‘we teach them ethics they will somehow be ethical’.” Dal Pont explained that ethics conveyed a variety of things to different people, meaning that people set their own parameters on what was ‘ethical’. He described ethics as not being a matter of how a person felt on the day to what was right, but a set of principles. Professionalism in the 21st Century Maintaining your ethics in an evolving profession Legal ethics – as explained by Dal Pont – is primarily the law governing lawyers. He pointed out that, even if the professional obligation or law dictates what is inconsistent with a person’s interests or contradictory to their morals, a person must continue to follow ethics. “When talking about legal ethics, I am wary of a purely philosophical approach in this context. Legal ethics must be directly practical to what a practitioner does on a regular basis, in their day-to-day practice, and must foster the unique and valuable role lawyers perform in society. “If we are going to place ‘ethics’ in a broader framework, two things come to my mind: honesty and unselfishness.” Dal Pont maintained that most people would say there was a close relationship between ethics and honesty, but unselfishness was based on whose interests a person was favouring. He illustrated the question of potential conflict by doing what you want to do or doing what may be in the best interests of someone else as being a question of whether a person is acting ethically or not. Dal Pont does not see himself as a legal ethicist but as someone who comments upon the law that governs lawyers. “In the end, if you are simply talking about pure philosophical ethics without thinking about direct translation in a specific way – such as lawyer to client or lawyer to court – you might be swayed in a way that is expected in those relationships.” When discussing the future of legal ethics, as opposed to the mechanics of legal practice, in a world with ever-evolving technology and legislation, he was not convinced that artificial intelligence (AI) would make a great deal of difference. He described artificial intelligence as a product with human input to some degree – with a degree of judgment and learning capabilities. He surmised that AI was unlikely by itself to demand any different standard of ethics, but accepted that it will influence matters of efficiency and create competition. “Even sophisticated search engines will affect efficiency rather than ethics, as they also have some degree of human input. Each point has a downward pressure – efficiency and cost.” Regardless of the future, what can lawyers do to protect themselves? Dal Pont advised that one must focus on what is best for the client. “Merely because something is client driven doesn’t mean that it is beneficial to the client. A lawyer must believe that he or she can properly represent the client within the parameters of the engagement.” Dal Pont explained this in the context of limited-scope retainers, pointing out that this concept was not radically new. He recognised the benefit to clients as them being able to save money while also receiving some legal advice. However, Dal Pont reiterated that the boundaries must be stipulated clearly to avoid misunderstanding. “Clients don’t always understand where the boundaries are in an engagement. There may be circumstances where the lawyer sometimes goes beyond the boundaries to protect their client from harm, and this is where we can see potential issues arise within the retainer.” Professor Dal Pont concluded by saying that one thing that would give the legal profession a “different standpoint when it comes to commitment to public service, would be that law is the only profession to which the full gamut of fiduciary law actually applies.” Dal Pont will speak more about ethics in the legal profession at QLS Symposium, 9-10 March 2018. QLS Symposium 2018 16 PROCTOR | February 2018 Day 1 – Highlights President Ken Taylor | QLS President’s Welcome The Honourable Chief Justice Catherine Holmes | Chief Justice’s Address Emeritus Professor Gillian Triggs | Upholding the rule of law in a complex post truth era Professor Gino Dal Pont | Professionalism in the 21st Century Family stream Be immersed in expertly run sessions designed to address the complexities of practising family law. Enjoy lively masterclasses, updates and topical discussions including a focus on property settlements and spousal maintenance for retirees, the tax traps in family law (including a focus on the million dollar rule), and a sceptic’s guide to using non-adversarial practise. Personal Injuries stream How do you calculate the true loss of opportunity for a newly self-employed client? What documents can and should you disclose when an injury file collides with a family law property settlement? Where will contemporary politics and common law rights take your PI practice next? This accelerated stream features fresh perspectives and practical sessions lead by experts in personal injuries. Property stream In a property market that is constantly changing, what do you need to know to build your property practice? Join the experts for a pragmatic and informative stream full of practical sessions that will set you up to thrive. Topics include the impending legislative reform, the increasing prevalence of electronic execution of property contracts, and a focus on managing transfer duty and tax issues for your clients. Core stream Calling all practitioners! Our two-day core stream features a kaleidoscope of sessions to assist you in navigating the changing legal marketplace. Tackle your cyber-risk head on, learn how to use cost-effective technology to your advantage, and discover how to effectively value your work. VIEW FULL PROGRAM AND PRESENTERS ONLINE symposium.qls.com.au Professor Gino Dal Pont Attend this premier event for Queensland’s legal profession. Hear from leading experts as they discuss planning for, embracing and thriving in the complexity of legal practice. Our streamlined program features six substantive law streams, plus a two-day core agenda that provides you with ample choice across a range of practice areas to secure your 10 CPD points. 9-10 March 2018 Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre QL S Symposium 2018 Friday 9 March 2018 Symposium attendees can access an exclusive discount.