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Choose ethical lawyers

Consumer Council Of Fiji
Saturday, November 25, 2017

NOT everyone can be legal experts hence, when ordinary consumers want assistance related to legal matters, they seek the services of legal practitioners.

Most lawyers do their utmost to provide the best services.

However, there are some lawyers who are not professional and ethical.

A basic professional responsibility of a lawyer is to ensure that they provide professional legal services.

This must be specific to prospective clients' needs with integrity and competence at all material times.

Consumers tend to place a lot of trust in lawyers but that trust is questioned when lawyers behave unethically.

Such was the situation with Amelia when she engaged a law firm to draft a deed of settlement.

A deed of settlement (also known as a deed of release) is usually a short, confidential document between the parties in a legal dispute.

Parties can draw up a deed, whether they have commenced court proceedings or negotiated a settlement to a dispute that remained un-litigated.

Amelia had engaged the services of a law firm to get a deed of settlement drafted after she had separated from her partner.

The deed was to make arrangements for their child's custody and access. She had also paid a deposit of $1000 to commence the drafting process.

Much to her dismay, there were constant delays from the law firm and they failed to provide her with a feedback on her case.

Amelia had to follow up with the lawyer on the progress at all times.

Distraught with the delay from the law firm, Amelia decided not to proceed with the legal services by the law firm and requested for bill of costs for the job done until that date.

The bill of costs had an amount of $1500 in total. Surprisingly, it did not reflect the deposit amount which was paid initially by her.

This added to her frustration, following which she sought the council's assistance.

Based on the council's investigations, the law firm concurred with the council's efforts to rightfully provide Amelia with a final bill of cost which reflected the deposit amount.

In this case, the law firm lacked integrity in not reflecting the deposit in the initial bill that was requested by Amelia.

The Legal Practitioners Act 2009 and the Code of Ethics for lawyers require them to be accountable for the actions they take.

As professionals, every lawyer must behave responsibly and ethically.

Unfortunately, a handful of lawyers tend to breach the Act and the Code of Ethics while providing their services to consumers by acting unethically.

Consumers have registered complaints at the council against lawyers for malpractice, misrepresentation, inappropriate billing, negligence, breach of their fiduciary duties, and breach of contracts among many other instances.

The council is aware that 2481 complaints were received by the Legal Practitioners Unit between 2009 and 2017.

A lawyer is expected to maintain high standards of professional conduct and should encourage other lawyers to do likewise.

Legal practitioners should refrain from all illegal and morally reprehensible conduct.

As a result of a lawyer's position in society, even minor violations of law by a lawyer may tend to lessen public confidence in the legal profession.

When consumers pay legal fees for the services intended to be provided, they must be provided with appropriate services.

Lawyers have a responsibility towards their clients to ensure that their interests are protected at all times.

They should not take advantage of their positions and put consumers in a vulnerable position where their rights are compromised.

Consumers are reminded to be more alert and have a proactive approach by questioning about the fee structures in place and the respective quality of services provided.

Consumers should engage in solicitor hunting that will enable them to make informed decisions.

Before hiring a legal practitioner, it is a good idea to make sure he or she is in good standing with the Legal Practitioner's Unit and/or the Chief Registrar's Office.

Consumers are advised to contact the council on the National Consumers Helpline, 155 or the Legal Practitioners Unit within the Judicial Department to complain about consumer issues relating to lawyers misconduct or unethical practices.

* This is a regular contribution from the Consumer Council of Fiji. Email: for feedback.

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