Elizabeth Shearer has been a solicitor for 30 years and spent 14 of those years working at Legal Aid Queensland, where she was Director of Client Information, Advice and Civil Justice Services.
Elizabeth’s experience is in the law as it impacts on people’s everyday lives including with a focus on family and civil law problems. She is active in the legal profession as a member of the Queensland Law Society (QLS) Council and the Chair of the QLS Practice Management Course Committee. She is also a Senior Counsellor for QLS, providing support to other lawyers with issues that arise in legal practice. With Affording Justice, Elizabeth is committed to bringing innovative and affordable legal services to the many people and small businesses who cannot otherwise get access to justice.
We had the pleasure of sitting down with Elizabeth recently to discuss key challenges and opportunities facing the industry today.
You can find the full Q&A below.
What does your practice look like? What are the type of problems you enjoy solving?
I am a general practitioner whose “specialty” is meeting the everyday legal needs of individuals and small businesses. My practice, Affording Justice, offers some non-traditional legal services, like legal task help for people who are self-representing. This means that I am working with clients to solve a broad range of legal problems, and I enjoy the variety that brings. It is very satisfying for me, and for the client, when I am able to:
- listen to the client’s story
- identify the legal issues and the facts relevant to the issues, and
- help the client to organise their material in a clear and persuasive way
What’s one thing that practitioners sometimes overlook or misunderstand related to their ethical obligations?
In my experience, practitioners sometimes overlook the link between our ethical obligations and our billing practices. We are in a fiduciary relationship with our clients and have an overriding obligation to charge fees that are fair and reasonable - excessive charging can be a professional conduct matter, no matter what the costs agreement says.
Do you have any tips for managing the issues related to conflict of interest?
Conflict of interest is something we all think we understand, but its application in practice can give rise to very difficult issues. I try and follow the adage “when in doubt, get out!”
What’s the one tip you would give to a practitioner who thinks they’ve allowed an oversight?
Don’t ignore it and hope it will go away – deal with it immediately. People most often get into trouble when they compound the first error by ignoring it, or worse trying to cover it up. There are a range of professional supports available to practitioners. I am a Senior Counsellor through the Queensland Law Society Senior Counsellor program. We are available to discuss issues confidentially with practitioners and help them work through the next best step to take in this situation.
You can hear more from Elizabeth at the CPD Mandatory Core Areas for All Lawyers seminar, being held on Friday 16 March at the Mercure Hotel Brisbane, Brisbane.