(Law Institute Journal)
Independence is important for lawyers because they are officers of the Court and have overriding duties to it.
The reason independence is a prerequisite for legal professional privilege lies in the role of privilege In promoting the administration of justice. The rationale is that the privilege encourages clients to be frank with their lawyer, thus enabling lawyers to give accurate advice based on a complete knowledge of the facts.
Without the privilege, clients may be selective about what they tell their lawyers, leading to inaccurate or incomplete legal advice and more widespread contraventions of the law.
Impartiality is closely aligned with independence.
However, blind and unquestioning loyalty by a lawyer is not in his or her client’s best interests. Those interests are best served by a lawyer who remains objective and at arm’s length from the client so that the advice provided is correct and not simply what the client wants to hear.
These skills may not be an attribute in the strict sense but they are vital because knowing the law and legal processes is insufficient if you are not able to communicate effectively with clients, other practitioners, court officials and other organisations.
It is commonly said that patience is a virtue. It is also an important attribute for lawyers because the law and its processes are complex and clients have difficulty understanding them. Time must be taken to explain them in simple terms so clients can make informed decisions.
CULTURAL AWARENESS AND TOLERANCE
Lawyers are best able to understand their clients’ legal problems if they know the cultural context in which they have arisen.
Courtesy towards clients assists in gaining their trust and loyalty. Courtesy towards other Practitioners help make legal practice more pleasant and facilitates negotiations and settlements.
A judge is more likely to read and be swayed by reasoned arguments stated in courteous language than by personal attacks on an opponent that are laced with vitriol and sarcasm.
Empathy towards clients, particularly in areas of practice with a strong emotional overlay, is a desirable quality. It puts clients at ease and gives them confidence. It’s not to say, however, that compassion requires a lawyer to totally identify with a client. A lawyer must retain his or her objectivity and independence.
A good lawyer is sensible enough to know when he or she is out of his or her depth and needs to seek advice and guidance from those with more experience. A good lawyer also has in his or her vocabulary the words, “I do not know, but I will check”. It is better to be honest and admit you do not know the answer to a question than guess the answer and get it wrong.
The success of a legal practice depends on the perception of its clients about the quality of its legal services and the manner in which they are delivered. A new lawyer with excellent technical legal skills cannot develop a successful legal practice if he or she treats clients with contempt.
SENSE OF HUMOUR
A balanced lifestyle, interests outside the law, a down to earth personality and a good sense of humour can increase one’s enjoyment of legal practice. Like most people, clients prefer to work with lawyers with a positive personality and outlook.
From a paper presented to the Australian Italian Association by Emilios Kyrou a Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria.