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Regulation principles and support during COVID-19

Commissioner update

The impacts of COVID-19 and the resulting government and court directives create particular difficulties for lawyers at this stressful time.  We are all concerned about our families, friends, colleagues and communities.  I also know that many lawyers are directly experiencing the financial impact of this global pandemic.

Given the substantial disruption to our society, now more than ever the community will need its legal profession to assist it with a range of difficult problems arising out of COVID-19 and the resulting impact on our economy and communities. Our responsibility as members of this profession to uphold the rule of law and the administration of justice is more critical than ever.  Here are a few principles that you should be particularly mindful of over the coming weeks and months.

Communicating clearly with your clients about your capacity to provide them with assistance will be critical to minimising misunderstanding and complaints.  Be open and upfront with clients about what you can and can’t take on. Many clients will be under significant stress; you may also need to make extra efforts to ensure that they understand how you can assist them and what you are advising them to do.

Working from home can also bring significant challenges. Please be careful about overreliance on electronic communications when taking instructions, whether they be from clients or colleagues.  The potential for cyber security hacking is heightened in this environment. You should double check any email communications to ensure there are no misunderstandings and that you have valid instructions.

Creating a safe working environment for your staff is critical. Where possible I expect you to follow the government’s directive to enable your staff to work from home.

Some of your clients may be tempted to use the economic conditions brought on by the global pandemic for their own personal benefit.  You have a responsibility to inform your clients that it is not appropriate to engage in sharp practice or exploit those who are vulnerable.

I understand that some of you will be unable to complete tasks to the usual high standards of competence and skill because of illness or the increasing restrictions on movement. If you find yourself in this position, please document the reasons why you cannot fulfil your obligations, as this may be required later.  I also encourage you to let me know as soon as possible if you find yourself in this position. Please use the new lawyer enquiry form rather than phoning us.  Be aware that I may require a medical certificate or statutory declaration in the event of a complaint arising from your incapacity.

Please note that where a proposed change to how you practice is in line with the general principles of our regulations we don’t need you to contact us first. 

These are extremely stressful times for everyone. The importance of remaining civil in our communications matters more than ever.  Please be kind to each other and exercise tolerance and understanding in all your dealings.

Please look out for your colleagues. If you are concerned that someone may be unwell or has been difficult to contact, please let us know via our new lawyer enquiry form so that we can check on their welfare. 

Fiona McLeay
Board CEO + Commissioner

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