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A solicitor must be ‘trusted to the ends of the earth’
Ms Justice Mary Irvine Pic: RollingNews.ie

11 Nov 2020 / law society Print

Solicitors must be ‘trusted to ends of earth’ – Irvine

The first ever virtual parchment ceremony for newly-qualified solicitors from the Law Society at Blackhall Place took place online last night.

Law Society President Michele O’Boyle told the newly-emergent solicitors that an independent legal profession is an essential component of democracy.

“Independence of Government, independence of commercial interests and independence of the media … is not a privilege of lawyers, rather it is the right of citizens,” she said.

“It is vital that the public, to whom we owe a duty, has confidence in the independence and integrity of the legal profession,” President O’Boyle continued. 

She told the newly-qualified lawyers that they have the ability to use the law for their client’s purposes, and very often, against someone else’s interests.

This knowledge should be exercised within the rule of law, which is the principle that our laws apply to all, fairly and equally, and that no one is above the law, the Law Society President said.

Champions 

“You are now the guardians and champions of the rule of law that our society is founded upon.”

Upholding the rule of law demands expertise, experience and commitment, President O’Boyle continued.

Lawyers play a vital role in the preservation of society, she said. 

“I challenge you to commit to being stewards of justice,” she added, pointing out that those with legal skills can make a big impact on society.

A solicitor has the right of audience in every court in the land, and should represent their clients with diligence and with independence, objectivity, and impenetrable integrity.

Ethical conduct

“Your advice must never be subject to outside interference,” she said.

Never disclose confidential information, she warned, or deviate from the highest ethical conduct.

And President O’Boyle asked the new solicitors to maintain a good work-life balance, and to keep family and friends central in their lives, as well as enjoying fulfilling pastimes.

“Do not let your work become your life.

“If you do so, you risk falling into ill-health,” she warned.

President of the High Court, Ms Justice Mary Irvine, who was the guest speaker at the parchment ceremony, said that never before had the two arms of the legal profession been closer or more inter-connected.

Patents of precedence

“This year, for the first time, patents of precedence have been granted to a substantial number of solicitors, allowing them to practise at the bar as senior counsel. 

“We also have an increasing number of solicitors being appointed as members of the judiciary,” she continued.

Ms Justice Irvine said she expected the number of solicitors being appointed to the superior courts to grow year-on-year, as a result of these changes.

"While barristers undoubtedly play a vital role in the administration of justice overall, the fact is that the lion’s share of legal work is carried out by solicitors in this country, without any involvement from the bar, or indeed the judiciary, for that matter," the High Court President said.

Interface 

The greatest interface between citizens and the administration of justice takes place at District Court level, the High Court President said.

Therefore, the quality of candidates appointed to the District Court bench is of the highest importance.

Matters in the High Court or Supreme Court do not generally have the same impact on citizens’ lives, she continued.

“In the same way, it is the solicitors’ profession, much more so than the bar, that bears the burden of supporting those in society who find themselves needing legal advice and assistance.”

Unique contribution

Solicitors make a unique contribution to the welfare of society as a whole in providing the best possible service for the routine problems of clients.

“In my 25 years practising as a barrister, not once did I have a bad experience when dealing with a member of the solicitors’ profession,” the judge continued, adding that she did not offer these plaudits lightly.

“Reliable, trustworthy, hard-working and honest are all terms that spring to mind … for all of those solicitors I had the pleasure of working with over several decades.”

Skills 

As a judge, the experience has been no different as, increasingly, solicitors hone their skills as advocates and are never found wanting in their engagement with the courts.

As President of the High Court, Ms Justice Irvine said that she had oversight of the solicitors’ profession.

However, the Law Society had only had to invoke the court’s jurisdiction in a tiny percentage of professional conduct cases, even though there were almost 21,000 practitioners on the roll in Ireland.

Privileged position

Nonetheless, the powerful and privileged position of solicitors must not be forgotten, the judge said.

They often handle large sums of money and deal with clients who are vulnerable, and open to suggestion or influence – “hence the importance that solicitors are people of principled standards, who are trustworthy, ethical, and take seriously their responsibilities to the public, to the administration of justice, to their colleagues, and to the profession as a whole,” the judge said.

Reputation

“Your obligation is to maintain the reputation of the solicitors’ profession as … one in which every member, of whatever standing, can be trusted to the ends of the earth.

“That is the standard expected of you, and by which you will ultimately be held to account,” the High Court President concluded.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland