The opening up of our state is a cause for joy and celebration. I acknowledge, however, that it also brings with it fresh challenges for the legal profession and for operating a legal practice.
To support the return to face-to-face work we have developed guidance about solicitors’ obligations in providing in person legal services to clients who are unvaccinated, or only partially vaccinated, against COVID-19.
Our guidance, available in full here, sets out relevant principles, rules and factors you should consider in any decisions you make about this issue. Our intention is to support you to make decisions that are well-reasoned and to highlight considerations we will take into account in the event of a complaint.
To summarise the key points from the guidance:
- Clients are not required to be vaccinated, and may not be able to access vaccination for medical reasons, by reason of age or for reasons connected with another protected attribute under equal opportunity legislation, so be cautious in taking a blanket approach.
- You are entitled to weigh factors including your obligations as an employer to provide a safe working environment, and potential risks to your own health and the health of your staff, against the protections offered by COVIDSafe measures.
- In all circumstances you should keep good records of your decision-making process, clear file notes of conversations and have clear supporting business policies in place.
You are under no obligation to accept new clients, regardless of their vaccination status. If, taking into account all relevant circumstances, you do not generally wish to provide in person legal services to unvaccinated or partially vaccinated new clients:
- be clear about this in your public facing documents
- provide information about what types of services you will be able to provide virtually or over the telephone, and
- be in a position to refer vulnerable persons and urgent matters requiring in person service to other practitioners.
- Whether or not you should see existing partially vaccinated or unvaccinated clients in person depends on the specific factual scenario. However, either way, your duties to your existing clients do not change as a result of their vaccination status.
- You should be very careful before ceasing to act for existing clients with litigious matters on foot. You will need to comply with the applicable court process.
- If an existing client is vulnerable and/or requires urgent assistance that you consider is more appropriately offered in person, you should strongly consider seeing them (or making arrangements for them to be seen) in person.
- Where vulnerability is not a particular concern for unvaccinated or partially vaccinated existing clients, you may decide against in person meetings. You should provide clear, readily comprehensible advice about how you will communicate with them virtually or over the telephone. You should also explain that they can choose to seek alternative legal representation.
We hope the guidance assists you in balancing appropriately the many competing obligations you have, as well as safeguarding your practice and your personal health, safety and wellbeing.