Your worst nightmare – the boss is unethical!
By Michael Dolan.
After 4 years of unremitting study and hard work at law school, you have finished your practical training, been admitted to practice, and started a new job as a first year solicitor. You are still basking in the joy and happiness of your family and enjoying the real sense of satisfaction of having become part of an honourable profession. On your third day in the office your boss instructs you to witness a client’s signature on a document which you did not see the client sign. How do you respond?
You know that you cannot do what your boss has asked. The point of having a witness to a party’s signature on a document (particularly a witness who is a solicitor) is to certify to the world that the person who signed the document did so in the presence of the witness.
You know you have a paramount ethical duty to the court and the administration of justice which trumps all of your other ethical duties. You know you must never do anything dishonest or misleading in the course of legal practice. You are an officer of the court.
The first thing is for you to point out to your boss very politely and respectfully that you cannot do what he has asked because it would be a breach of your ethical duties to do so.
Perhaps your boss simply doesn’t realise what he has done? Maybe he slept through ethics lectures at law school. Hopefully, your comment will remind him of his ethical duties and that will fix the problem with a different ethical course being taken by your boss.
If your boss persists in his demand for you to act unethically, then you must decline very firmly to do so. If there are other solicitors in the office, you could seek advice from them on how to handle this difficult interaction with your boss.
However, you may need to point out to your boss that his request to you puts him in breach of s. 39 of Schedule 1 – Legal Profession Uniform Law which is directly applicable to the situation which you are now facing:
“39 Undue influence
A person must not cause or induce or attempt to cause or induce a law practice or a legal practitioner associate of a law practice to contravene this Law, the Uniform Rules or other professional obligations.
Penalty: 100 penalty units.”
If the matter fails to resolve satisfactorily, then you may need to move elsewhere in your employment because you only have one practising certificate and you must never put it at risk.
- Schedule 1 – Legal Profession Uniform Law, s. 39 Undue Influence
Michael Dolan is an Australian Legal Practitioner. Michael was previously a Senior Ethics Solicitor at the Law Institute and is passionate about legal ethics. Michael enjoys advising and assisting other lawyers respond to their ethical challenges.