A statement confirming the proper advice to clients on the raised income limits for civil legal aid; and revised guidelines on comments to the media by solicitors

Increased eligibility for legal aid

In the context of the significant increase in the financial eligibility limits for civil legal aid, the committee considered whether solicitors should advise existing clients with current cases of these changes.

The committee’s previously published position as to a solicitor’s duty in this context can be found at para 10.04.02 of Law, Practice and Conduct for Solicitors by Alan Paterson and Bruce Ritchie: “A solicitor is under a duty to advise clients who may be eligible about the existence of the legal aid scheme, including advice and assistance. Examination of the client’s eligibility however depends on the client requesting that and the solicitor being willing to do so. Firms not offering legal aid should inform potential clients of this at the outset and advise them to consult another firm.”

Applying its previously published position to the current situation, it agreed that if a firm has previously written to clients to advise it does not offer legal aid, and this remains its position, there is no need for the firm to repeat this intimation to clients. If however a firm has previously advised clients that they do not appear to be eligible for legal aid, it should write to such clients who are involved in ongoing transactions and inform them of the significant increase in the financial eligibility limits for civil legal aid. Further and as appropriate the firm should advise them either (a) that the firm is not prepared to offer legal aid and advise them to consult another firm, or (b) if they wish to enquire about their eligibility, to contact the firm.

Guideline on comments to the media by solicitors

The Professional Practice Committee has recently revised both the preamble and the text of the Guideline on Comments to the Media by Solicitors, as follows (May 2009):

The law and the legal profession are of significant interest to the media and their readers, listeners and viewers. Solicitors can work effectively with journalists in responding to their inquiries, as well as act as legal commentators and assist in conveying accurate information to the public.

Solicitors presenting information to the media in relation to their clients’ affairs are acting in a professional capacity. Solicitors should conduct themselves in their public appearances and public statements in the same manner as they would with their fellow practitioners and with the courts.

In making a public statement concerning a client’s affairs, a solicitor must (1) have the client’s authority to do so; (2) be satisfied that any communication is in the client’s best interests; (3) ensure it is based upon an accurate appreciation of the facts and is not misleading; and (4) in relation to a case which has been decided in court, make clear that the views expressed are those of the client and not of the solicitor. Solicitors should not permit their personal interests or those of other causes to conflict with the client’s interests.

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