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Founder, Guru, Lawsinger, Grand Poobah … are we entitled to our titles?

“Greetings from The Humungus! The Lord Humungus! The Warrior of the Wasteland! The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla!”

– Toady, Mad Max 2

In the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max, titles no doubt have a great significance, as they do in the real world.

Unlike the world of Mad Max, however, in the real world we cannot simply claim titles through right of might – and this is especially the case in the legal world, where a title can create an understanding (or misunderstanding) in the mind of a client as to what a lawyer does and how well they do it.

Indeed, some titles in the legal world have a specific meaning – for example, if you are admitted and hold a current practising certificate, you can call yourself an Australian legal practitioner or solicitor (or barrister if you are admitted in that capacity).1 If you are admitted but do not hold a practising certificate, you can refer to yourself as a lawyer.

We should also be mindful that, though we know the difference between a solicitor and a lawyer, the public do not – consequently, we should be careful using these terms to ensure that we are not misleading them.

Those titles represent different levels of qualifications, which can qualify what a practitioner can do, and you can learn more of the details in that space.

In the circumstances, it is important that practitioners take care with the titles they adopt; should a client take issue with a title and a court decide the title was misleading, it may end up with a client agreement being voided or even disciplinary proceedings.

Similarly, while ‘partner’ has no definition in the Legal Profession Act 2007 (LPA), the term will create certain assumptions in the minds of lawyer and layperson alike, and should not be used lightly.

Practitioners should also be mindful of complying with the requirements of Rule 36.2 of the Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules in relation to the use of the term ‘accredited specialist’ and its derivatives.

Indeed, care needs to be taken in general when assigning ourselves ‘rank’ within a firm. Outside of the official designations in the LPA, titles have only the meanings we give them – or those assumed by clients and others.

Using words with no agreed meaning is a recipe for disaster, and should be avoided. Titles do not indicate any official ‘pecking order’ in a firm and clients, colleagues and courts should not be led to believe otherwise.

One area of serious concern is the self-declared titles that permeate social media: gurus, wizards, ninjas, prophets, queen, king, Jedi…these titles may have currency in the Metaverse (or in Dungeons & Dragons) but they have no place in a law firm.

It is also unwise for lawyers to append such honorifics to their own social media profiles; claiming a speciality or expertise not possessed (or even in the arguable category) could induce a client to sign a retainer they otherwise would not have; as noted above, this could invalidate the agreement or attract regulatory sanction.

The bottom line is that the only thing that should appear beside your name, at least in a professional context, is something you have earned – and which won’t mislead anybody.

Titles which have accepted and understood meanings in the legal world are generally OK; those which you have to sit around for an hour inventing, are probably best left alone.

Shane Budden is a Special Counsel, Ethics, with the Queensland Law Society Ethics and Practice Centre.

Footnote
1 Legal Profession Act 2007, schedule 2.

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One Response

  1. Good article Shane – without wishing to be unkind how did you get the title special counsel ? oops – the biter
    bit !!

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