In her foreword to the guide, former High Court President Ms Justice Mary Irvine highlights the core solicitor values of integrity, honesty and trustworthiness, which are essential for instilling public confidence in the administration of justice, she writes.
If a solicitor is found to be lacking in these essential characteristics, then it is appropriate that there are very serious consequences, she says.
In his speech, Mr Justice Barniville referred to the unanimous Court of Appeal judgment this year in Law Society v Doocey, which upheld President Irvine’s decision to strike off a young solicitor on grounds of dishonesty.
Mr Justice Barniville said that a powerful judgment had been delivered by Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly, with an equally strong concurring judgment from Mr Justice Maurice Collins.
Ms Justice Donnelly said in her judgment that dishonesty must be assessed objectively, and not by the subjective understanding of that term by the solicitor.
Mr Justice Collins expressed sympathy for a newly admitted solicitor in his judgment, but went on to say that, while membership of the solicitors’ profession brought many benefits, these came with the price of being held to exacting standards of honesty, integrity and trustworthiness.
Mr Justice Barniville pointed to the judgment’s position that the continuing vitality of those standards was essential to the maintenance of trust and confidence in the solicitors’ profession, which was a key component in the administration of justice.
Committee chair Justine Carty told the launch that the guide, last published in 2012, was overdue an update, due to changes in legislation.
The latest edition did not impose any new obligations on solicitors, Carty explained: “Rather it incorporates updates to legislation, in practice notes, and in case law, with a new section in relation to best practice in undertakings,” she said.
The guide was a reference in ethics and professional conduct for all solicitors, Carty added, both for those beginning their career, and those on the brink of retirement.
The guide was by solicitors and for solicitors, she said, whether in private practice, in the public sector, or working in-house.
“The guide is to be used as an information tool to assist solicitors in their decision-making, in relation to the many and varied decisions that arise in practice,” she added.
One copy of the guide will be posted to each practice in the country, with further copies available on application, Justine Carty explained.
The guide is also available online, using the opt-in function of the members’ area of the Law Society’s website.
t-in function of the members’ area of the Law Society website.
Law Society President Michelle Ní Longáin commented that she was delighted to attend the launch of such an important publication, which outlined best practice in both conduct and ethics for solicitors.
“It’s an invaluable support for our professional lives, and the foundation of the values upon which the solicitors’ profession in Ireland rests, “ she said.
Its publication had been a huge task, taken on by the highly dedicated Guidance and Ethics Committee, she said.
Providing this update in guidance and ethics assured the public in general, and clients in particular, of the very clear expectation and requirement that solicitors in Ireland worked to high standards at all times, she said.
The president praised the dedication and voluntary hard work that had gone into producing the guide, which was designed to be user-friendly and to give answers quickly: “I encourage each of my colleagues to read and absorb it, and have it as a bible to consult and reflect upon,” she said.
“Ethics and professional conduct is more important than ever for solicitors. Solicitors face constant challenges and pressures in their practice, and this might mean that solicitors take short cuts or let standards slip,” said Law Society’s Guidance and Ethics Committee chair Justine Carty.
“We are in a time when our firms continue to change at an unprecedented speed. Some of us have shifted from predominantly working in the office to a new hybrid or blended model of working which presents a number of additional challenges,” she said.
Other challenges for the profession include recruitment and high attrition rates, fee earner burnout and the ever-present demands of a highly regulated profession, Carty continued.
Prime taget for cybercrime
Law firms are also a prime target for cybercrime, client expectations are growing and there is a constant downward battle for fees, she added.
“This is why the ethics and professional conduct is fundamental to a solicitors practice. When we remember and follow the core values of the profession to include honesty, integrity, independence, confidentiality, and the avoidance of conflict of interest, professional standards are maintained.
“The guide is a tool for solicitors to use to assist them in their practice. It is user friendly and there is a detailed index and a resource page is available online with links to the various practice notes, case law and legislation.”
Justine Carty added that courts have made clear that the standard of honesty required for solicitors is that they may be "trusted to the ends of the earth".
“Clients place their trust in us as legal practitioners to provide proper and adequate legal services. We are relied on by the courts to be honest in how we deal with cases."
'Other people's money'
“We deal with and advise on large amounts of other people's money and assets and we help people in difficult and distressing situations which might involve sensitive information. This is why we must ensure that everything is done to protect and maintain professional standards,” she said.
Mr Justice Barniville also publicly thanked his High Court President predecessor, Ms Justice Mary Irvine, for her enormous assistance during the handover of the role.