More on the Legal Practice Bill

The survey examines the challenges facing all the country's firms and looks at the far-from-settled Legal Practice Bill that is about to change the face of the profession. The legal profession's income is about to diminish substantially according to the first article, The law takes a new course. Attorneys have earned their income from traditional sources such as third party claims, legal aid and conveyancing - this income is about to be reduced considerably. Conveyancing fees for instance have been subjected to severe pressure from banks and other institutions.

Andre van Vuuren, director of the Law Society of SA, has been quoted as saying that there are too many lawyers in the country as a percentage of the economically active population. Most of the population however cannot afford legal representation. To address this mismatch in access to legal services, one of the proposals in the draft Legal Practitice Bill is the introduction of pro bono services. Van Vuuren said, "We're looking at a scheme whereby legal practitioners will have to perform a set number of hours free of charge, or we will not renew their licences."

The subject of multi-disciplinary practices (MDPs) is also covered in the survey. In an article entitled Firms move away from supplementary services, the author points out that conflicts of interest can arise when there is a cross-selling of services provided by different divisions within an MDP. Auditors for example, are obliged to blow the whistle when they come across client irregularities, whereas lawyers have an obligation to honour client confidentiality.

The Accountancy Profession Bill (to be enacted this year) and the draft Legal Practice Bill (in the process of being redrafted) are expected to give statutory recognition to MDPs. Ed Southey (senior partner at Webber Wentzel Bowens) who researched the issue thinks that they will not work. "Post-Enron, shareholders are saying that professional advisers - whether attorneys, auditors or tax advisers - must be independent. They have a duty as much to the shareholders of the client as to the client itself", he says.

The last article, All lawyers to be made equal, deals with proposals to have a single governing body for attorneys and advocates - this will help resolve the irreconcilable differences that have emerged between these professions.

Links to:
The law takes a new course
Firms move away from supplementary services
All Lawyers to be made equal

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