Ethics in the practice of law: a profession, a business or both?

The Australian Academy of Law is holding its second ethics themed Sydney event on Tuesday 20 June 2017, on the question of the law as a profession or a business.

An eminent panel of participants in the Australian legal services market will debate the tension between the ancient fiduciary-based ethical principles on which the legal profession is based and the modern mercantile profit-driven business objectives of those who make their living out of the practice of law.    

The panel comprises, as chair and moderator, Fiona McLeod SC, and panelists Don Robertson, Noel Hutley SC, Dr Attracta Lagan, John McKenzie, and Linda Tucker, all representing a wide range of legal and ethical stakeholder groups.   

Panelists will answer questions raised by those attending who have submitted questions via their RSVP form. The chair will also take questions from the floor during the debate. 
Issues for debate

Issues to be debated might include:

• What does it mean to be a legal “professional” today?

• Are ethics rigid and immutable or are they malleable? Some ethical concepts are non-negotiable but some are open to interpretation – which are which? 

• Is being a professional always compatible with running a business? In what ways are they inconsistent?

• Lawyers are fiduciaries with respect to their clients, with the essential fiduciary duty to avoid conflicts, particularly between loyalty to the client and the lawyer’s self-interest. Lawyers also have higher duties, including as officers of the Court.  How well are these duties and conflicts managed in a profit-driven business environment?

• Does the answer differ as between transactional practice and litigation? Is the conflict somehow more acute for a lawyer deciding as between settling a dispute matter early and running it to trial (and possibly appeals)?  To what extent do contingency fees and litigation funders create the potential to distort the calculus?

• Managing conflicts between clients: is there a difference between what the courts require and how firms manage them?

• Pro bono work: does this provide a sufficient counterbalance?

• Lawyers are largely self-regulated through law societies and bar associations.  Is this adequate and appropriate in the 21st century?

Registration (free admission) for this event is via –  – by Friday 16 June 2017.

Time and date: 5:30 – 7:00pm, Tuesday 20 June 2017

Venue: Ceremonial Court of the Federal Court of Australia, Level 21, Law Courts Building, Queen’s Square, Sydney



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