Commissioner Update December 2020
In this edition:
• Commissioner message
• Increase in fraud at law practices
• External examiners – what are we looking for?
• Trust reconciliation – deadlines extended
• Legal Services Council new members
• Changes to the Register of Lawyers
• Supervised legal practice conditions
• Check your details on LSB Online
Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants
The Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants has handed down its report and there are a number of recommendations relating to the legal profession. We have committed to working closely with the Victorian Government and stakeholders to implement all recommendations, and my team have already started this work.
You may have read my editorial in The Age last week where I discussed the recommendation relating to mandatory reporting of serious misconduct.
While we support the mandatory reporting recommendation, we also encourage you to continue to seek advice and support from your peers via the Law Institute of Victoria’s ethics support service or the Victorian Bar’s Ethics Committee. A conversation with these services can provide guidance to those seeking to understand the right course of action. Conversations are confidential, and are not reported to us.
I said in my editorial that the vast majority of lawyers do the right thing and act ethically and in the best interests of their clients. However the actions of Nicola Gobbo have undoubtedly diminished the public’s trust in the justice system.
The Royal Commission report is over 1,000 pages, with over 100 recommendations, including 15 that directly relate to lawyers. There will continue to be extensive coverage of this issue, with the appointment of a special prosecutor, the implementation of the recommendations and the potential appeals by Ms Gobbo’s former clients.
We have a way to go in restoring the public’s trust and confidence in the justice system. And it’s critical that we do. My office will be working with stakeholders, including the Victorian Government, the LIV and the Victorian Bar, to ensure that all Victorians have faith that the lawyer they engage will act ethically and honestly.
You can play your part in restoring public trust and confidence in lawyers. If you know about, or have evidence of serious misconduct by another lawyer, this should be reported to my office. This isn’t an invitation for lawyers who are disgruntled with their peers or colleagues to come to us with unfounded or frivolous allegations. Instead we want to hear about specific incidents of wrongdoing that have been observed, or broader trends, issues or concerns with the conduct of other lawyers within the profession.
Continuing Professional Development Report
In November we released the findings of our CPD review, undertaken by independent consultant Chris Humphreys. The report made 28 recommendations for improving the CPD system in Victoria, and provides a roadmap for how we can ensure lawyers have meaningful, relevant and accessible learning opportunities that enrich the quality of legal services.
We are currently reviewing the report and the recommendations, and in the New Year we will release our regulatory response. While there are some quick wins in the recommendations, others may take some time and resources to implement. The recommendations relating to ethics align with the Royal Commission’s recommendations, so this of course will be a priority for our attention.
Our office will close on 24 December and re-open on 11 January
2020 has been an incredibly hard year for all of us. However, reflecting on the year that’s been, I believe there is still much to be thankful for, despite the challenges thrown at us. I am proud of the many lawyers in the community who have continued to provide quality legal advice to clients in difficult circumstances. This includes those who offered to help communities impacted by bushfires earlier in the year. My team and I have also worked very hard, alongside the LIV and the Victorian Bar, to support and guide the profession through the challenges of the year.
The challenges we have faced here in Victoria have been many and great, but with the relaxing of restrictions and the coming of summer and the holiday season, I hope you all have a well-earned break to recharge ahead of a COVID normal 2021. Our office will close on the 24th of December and we will return on Monday 11th January.
Board CEO + Commissioner
Increase in fraud at law practices by non-lawyers
In the past two years we have seen an increase in the number of claims being lodged against the Fidelity Fund for losses suffered by clients due to fraudulent conduct by paralegals and/or law clerks employed by law practices. We have also noted an increase in the value of the fraud being undertaken. In some cases, the individuals concerned have been found to have previously undertaken similar dishonest/fraudulent conduct. A common theme enabling the paralegal/law clerk to carry out the unlawful conduct was the presence of one or more of the following factors:
• a weakness or failing in the law practice’s accounting procedures
• a high degree of autonomy coupled with a lack of other checks and balances and/or
• a lack of adequate supervision.
To ensure you protect yourself and your law firm from fraud, we have issued some guidance to help you mitigate against this risk. Read more here.
External examinations – what are we looking for?
An External Examiner review can be a stressful process and it can feel that there may be serious disciplinary consequences for any rule breaches, no matter the circumstances. We take a risk-based approach to managing legislative breaches, and minor infractions will not necessarily result in major consequences. Read more here.
Trust reconciliations –deadlines extended
Due to the difficulties many law practices have faced with record keeping during COVID-19, we are extending the deadline for completing all records, including the December 2020 trust reconciliations until 21 January 2021. Read more here.
Legal Services Council new members
A new team of respected lawyers, including the current head of the NSW Law Reform Commission and our own Board member Liz Harris, have been chosen to lead the Legal Services Council for the next 3 years. Read more here.
Changes to the Register of Lawyers
Last week we launched some changes to the Register of Lawyers on our website. The Register now includes more information about lawyers to assist consumers of legal services to make informed choices before they engage a lawyer. For lawyers who have provided information and consented to having this published, the register now contains the areas of law they practice, the languages they speak as well as any LIV accredited specialisations they may have.
We have also merged the Register of Lawyers with the Register of Disciplinary Action so there is one place where the public can find out all the information about a lawyer.
Supervised legal practice condition
If your practising certificate (PC) has a supervised legal practice (SLP) condition, you need to apply to have this removed once you have completed the supervised practice period of 18 months or two years. It is best to do this outside the PC renewal period to avoid delays in renewing. Remember, you can’t practice unsupervised or be a supervisor to someone else while you have a SLP condition on your PC. Read more here.
Check your details at LSB Online
Did you know that you need to tell us within 14 days if your information changes?
If you change your:
• address for service, or
• email address
log into LSB Online to update your details as soon as possible.