Weekly law ‘speak’ – Issue #1 Legal Ethics

I thought I’d start making little cliff notes on areas of law mostly as a record for myself and hey if they help someone that’s good to.

The cliff notes are just an overview of the big ticket resources on a particular area and shouldn’t be taken in any way as gospel – I’m an (often sleep deprived and stressed out) law student and research librarian NOT a lawyer.

Weekly law ‘speak’ – Legal Ethics

Short answer: there isn’t a definitive definition

Long answer: Its complicated.

Looking at legal ethics from a law librarian (often social-sciency) brain legal ethics is focused on the big questions ‘what is right?’ ‘is what I’m going ethical?’ and if your a consequentialist ‘what will happen if I get this decision wrong?’ For legal professionals and practitioners, legal ethics does not remove all of this ambiguity and subjectivity – asking all of the tough questions still must be front of mind. To guide practitioners, however, there is a legislation as well as industry/professional associations.

There is legislation in each state regulating legal practitioners and professionals. In New South Wales there is the Legal Profession Act 2004 and Legal Profession Regulation 2005.
There are equivalent Legal Profession Acts (same name – different year) in Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia, Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory.

The industry/professional associations play an interesting role as educators and supporters of practitioners as well as regulators.
As regulators the societies implement Practitioner Rules such as the NSW solicitors Rules and the Barristers Rules. The NSW Rules have adopted (with some amendments) the Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules and you need to check in your jurisdiction whether they apply.

There are a number of great resources available to assist lawyers in making those ethical decisions as well as help us as the librarians assisting them to understand the responsibilities they have. Below are some of the resources
Law Society of New South Wales – Has a dedicated Ethics Unit and Assistance committee. Please note there are equivalent services and resources in each state with separate resources for legal practitioners and barristers
St James Ethics Centre

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