Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger has warned that alternative business structures and conditional fee agreements are two ‘concerning’ developments which could pose a threat to lawyers’ ethical duties.
Giving a speech on ethics and advocacy at the Royal Courts of Justice last night, Neuberger (pictured) said the risk of a ‘conflict of interest’ within an ABS was obvious.
He said: ‘The investors will often have no interest in lawyers’ ethical duties and will ultimately only be concerned with the bottom line.’
Likewise he said contingency fee arrangements and success fees also increase the scope for a conflict of interest, as they give advocates and lawyers a financial interest in litigation.
He said: ‘One must […] be concerned with a change which increases the temptation for a lawyer to fail to accord with her ethical duties.’
He added: ‘If we really believe that lawyers, and indeed other professionals, should not be placed in a position of conflicting loyalties the case for success fees may appear to many people to look a little shaky.’
But he admitted that these fee arrangements did help improve access to justice. He also said he hoped lawyers’ commitment to high ethical standards was ‘sufficiently robust’ to resist the temptations conditional fee arrangements or ABSs give rise to.
Neuberger also warned that the high level of regulation in the legal profession could lead to an ‘attractive culture’, which takes high ethical standards for granted, being replaced by a ‘box-ticking’ exercise.
He said: 'Professional ethics cannot always be reduced to simple rules, and if that leads regulators to produce increasingly complex and detailed rules, I wonder whether we are better as a result.'
Neuberger suggested that lawyers should be taught more about their ethical duties while training.
Turning to future developments, Neuberger said there was ‘no doubt’ that Professor Richard Susskind’s prediction that massive technological advances would reshape the legal industry could be correct.
He said lawyers have to be prepared for the problems and opportunities presented by these ‘enormous developments’.