What are a solicitor’s obligations to client privacy?
The relationship between client and solicitor gives rise to a range of legal duties created to protect the best interests of the client. This is due to the existence of a fiduciary relationship, which involves the client placing his or her confidence, good faith, reliance and trust in the solicitor, whose advice is being sought.
There are a range of legal duties that exist in a solicitor/client relationship, governed by the Legal Profession Uniform Law Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules 2015 (NSW). This includes:
A solicitor has the duty to clearly inform their client in writing on how much they will be charged for providing their legal service. This disclosure should be made in a costs agreement or letter and must inform the client of their right to negotiate any costs, have the bill assessed and have any dispute about the costs mediated.
Once the client has agreed to the costs agreement, they can also request the solicitor to send an itemised bill that provides detailed description of the work performed and the cost for providing this work. If a solicitor fails to disclose this information, the client has the right to refuse to pay for any legal services received until the bill has been assessed by a Costs Assessor.
Any oral and written communication between a client and solicitor is strictly confidential. A solicitor may only disclose information which is confidential to a client if:
- The client expressly or impliedly authorises disclosure;
- The solicitor is permitted or compelled by law to disclose;
- The solicitor discloses information in a confidential setting, for the sole purpose of obtaining advice in connection with the solicitor’s legal or ethical obligations;
- The solicitor discloses the information for the purpose of preventing imminent serious physical harm to the client or to another person; or
- The information is disclosed to the insurer of the solicitor, law practice or associated entity.
Conflicts of Interest
Solicitors have a legal duty to prevent their own interests, or the interests of an associate, to conflict with those of the client. There are many situations where a conflict of interest may arise, including:
- Acting against a former client;
- Acting for more than one party to any proceedings or transaction;
- Acting where there is a conflict between a client’s and a practitioner’s own interest;
- Receiving a benefit under a will or other instrument; or
- Borrowing money from a client.
If you suspect that there may be a conflict of interest, you should raise this with them immediately.
Solicitors are required to follow a client’s lawful, proper and competent instructions when making any decisions about your legal matter. They have a duty to carry out these instructions promptly and efficiently.
Enforcement of duties
All solicitors in New South Wales are obliged to follow these laws and ethical standards. If you believe that your solicitor has deliberately breached any of these rules, contact the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner on (02) 9377 1800.