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‘Trust and confidence’ – a two-way street

Trust and confidence are fundamental to how we deal with and represent our clients.

They are the foundation of the fiduciary relationship.

But trust and confidence are not what we merely owe to the client. We must also expect that we can trust and have confidence in the client.

We should keep in mind that we need to think carefully either when the retainer begins or during the course of the engagement if the client is fit for us.

Is the relationship one that we are comfortable with? Do we know who our client is? Do we understand what the engagement is requiring of us?

A client needs to be open and honest with us as we need to be open and honest with them. Where we suspect that a client is being less than frank with us or is not giving the whole of the story then we are put on enquiry.

We need to dig a bit further to understand the full circumstances of the transaction or why the client is behaving in a certain way. If we can’t get a response that gives us assurance or comfort or the response is less than fulsome it could be our reputation which is at risk.

When we hold a reasonable belief that we are being used for ulterior purposes or even for an instrument of fraud then we must choose to bring the retainer to an end.

A ‘just cause’ will include where the client is potentially using us for dishonest, misleading or deceptive purposes. We must act promptly; otherwise, we could be engaging in conduct that is not only dishonest but could be prejudicial to public confidence in the administration of justice.

Stafford Shepherd is the Principal Ethics and Practice Counsel of the Queensland Law Society Ethics and Practice Centre.

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