The Law Society Gazette is a legal news website which is circulated to legal professionals all over Ireland. It recently published an article concerning a review that was published by Britain’s Solicitors Regulation Authority showing that some law firms in Britain need to do more to guard against the risk of strategic lawsuits against public participation. “Strategic lawsuits against public participation” is a term commonly used to indicate an abusive or meritless lawsuit filed against someone for exercising their political rights or freedom of expression in relation to matters of public interest. The SRA criticised the bringing of proceedings in which the underlying intention is to stifle the reporting or the investigation of serious concerns of corruption or money laundering by using improper and abusive litigation tactics. An example of these types of proceedings came about following the war in Ukraine, with significant concerns being raised about solicitors making meritless claims on behalf of oligarchs to stifle public discourse about corruption or money-laundering. The Gazette pointed out that the review identifies that solicitors play an important role and, as officers of the court, are expected to behave in a way that protects the public interest, and helps the legal system to work for all.
What struck me in particular in this review by the SRA was the statement that “Solicitors are not simply ‘hired guns’”. The review provided that what they mean by that statement is that solicitors should not bring cases which are not properly arguable, which are excessive or oppressive, and solicitors should not act in a way which could mislead or take advantage of others during Court proceedings. The review further went on to state that managing potential conflicts is also an essential element of maintaining legal professional ethics.
This statement made me think about my day-to-day life in the office and in Court. While practicing in the area of litigation, of course disputes are an inevitable part of your everyday life. We regularly manage disputes of all types from boundary issues between waring neighbours, a drunken altercation to a marriage breakdown, we have seen it all. Disputes of all kinds need to be managed in as careful a way as possible. While, yes, solicitors are acting on behalf of a client, their role is to advocate to the best of their ability on their client’s behalf, it is important to always remember that solicitors are not merely a mouthpiece for a disgruntled client and must be guided by their ethical obligations.
Maybe it is my training in family law, however, I am of the firm belief that a problem shared is a problem solved. Discussing the dispute with your client and with the other side and attempting to come up with a reasonable solution is surely always the more preferred solution. This can in turn lead to satisfied clients on both sides of the dispute.
In circumstances where agreement is not possible and for whatever reason litigation is necessary, it is important that solicitors act in a way that upholds the rule of law and the proper administration of justice. Solicitors must act in a way that upholds public trust and confidence in the solicitors’ profession. Solicitors must act with independence, with honesty, with integrity and in the best interests of each client. It is important that a client is aware that solicitors must safeguard the wider public interest, which may, in some circumstances take precedence over an individual client’s interests. For example, you must not allow a client to knowingly mislead the court in order to further their case.
This brings me back to the statement that “solicitors are not simply hired guns”. Listening to a client is of utmost importance and advancing a client’s case even more, so however it is vital to keep in mind that acting on exactly what a client says just to keep them happy, may not always be the best way forward. A solicitor’s duty is not only to their client. Solicitors also owe duties to the Courts, third parties and to the public interest. It is important for solicitors to recognise their wider duties and never to rationalise misconduct on the mistaken basis that their only duty is to their client. Therefore, ascertaining the facts of each case and the merits behind each story is of essential importance in deciding to proceed with litigation of any form.
Wolfe & Co LLP are experienced advocates who are here to assist you in all aspects of dispute resolution.
By Aislinn Collins Solicitor
This article is for general information purposes/general overview only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. We recommend seeking legal advice to interpret and advise on any aspect of the law.
March 2023 Wolfe & Co. LLP Solicitors
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