N Touch
Friday 6 December 2019
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Editorial

Resolving lawyer and client disputes

IN AN unfortunate turn, the estate of the late Senior Counsel Theodore Guerra was ordered to repay $344,700 to a family who had hired him to represent their sons on a murder charge. The well-regarded Guerra died in December 2012 and never appeared in the matter despite payments being made in full.

Justice Frank Seepersad acknowledged the unusual nature of the situation and made his ruling according to law. He emphasised that the distinguished lawyer did not act dishonourably, but the circumstances of his illness led to his failure to fulfil his contractual obligation. He called on the Law Association, particularly in light of the significant growth in the numbers of practising lawyers, to address the business aspects of the profession.

“The (Law Association’s) disciplinary committee in its current form may not be able to efficiently manage and regulate the number of complaints before them,” Seepersad said.

He also called for the establishment of an official legal ombudsman to act as a third party in resolving disputes between lawyers and their clients. That’s one of the tiers of redress that exists in the UK, and in 2016 alone, the legal ombudsman reviewed 3,680 complaints against the legal profession.

Lawyers are an easy target. Last week Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley dismissed most local attorneys as “a set of blasted scamps without an iota of commitment to the country” at a rally in Sangre Grande.

Beyond such casual slander of the profession and a deep well of funny if not savage jokes about lawyers, the simple truth is that any well-populated profession will have a range of quality across its membership. At the most recent admissions ceremony for new lawyers at the Hall of Justice in November, Justice Althea Alexis-Windsor urged the new attorneys to “build their foundation for the long term.”

For single practitioners and very small firms, the challenge of practising law goes well beyond the legal demands of the profession. Institutional guidance for lawyers and established principles and procedures for the execution of professional practice should not be assumed to be understood. These practices should be regularly reinforced, particularly in an environment of rapid technological advancement, through systematic coaching and engagement with the legal fraternity.

Given the growth in the number of lawyers working in TT across a range of professional engagements, it seems sensible to suggest that mediation, overseen by the Law Association, as well as the appointment of a formal ombudsman to represent the public would offer the public the confidence of a clear line of redress should their relationship with their legal representative sour.

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