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Thursday, 26 November 2009

Conflicts of interest

Victoria Legal Aid is the largest 'firm' of solicitors in the state. Though this must carry a number of advantages, one of the downsides is the almost inevitable occurrence of client conflict.



So endemic has the problem become, it's become standard practice to have an alternative practitioner present or on call at sittings of the Magistrates' Court to act on behalf of clients that VLA would typically act for, but a client conflict precludes them from doing so.



From time to time the suggestion is made that VLA policy should be modified to allow VLA to act for both parties to a dispute. Particularly where counsel is briefed, there's some attraction to going down this path.



An article that barrister Mark Bender wrote for the Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law a few years ago effectively puts the negative case.



(Incidentally, Bender is also a fellow blogger who does excellent work at his site MarkBender.Info keeping his posts 'tweet-sized' for maximum impact).



In Taking up the Cudgels, some recent (sometimes embarassing) examples of failures to recognise glaring conflicts of professional interest are discusssed. The article highlights that it's not just the potential disclosure of confidential information that exists; simply knowing which train a client catches every morning can be useful for the service of process.

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