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Risk of signing correspondence as a “lawyer”

22 December 2017

[Names used in this article are ficticious]

A lawyer who includes their practice details in a private email runs the risk of misleading a member of the public about their status or their intentions.

This warning was sounded by a lawyers standards committee which considered a complaint by two people about a lawyer, Macmorris, who was a member of the Board of Trustees of her son’s primary school.

She had an email exchange with two school employees about the use and management of the school’s Facebook page. At the foot of her email, Macmorris used her sign off from her legal practice. This included her designation as a barrister and the standard advice to people receiving the email.

After she resigned from the board, Macmorris sent an email with the same sign off. The email included the following statement: “I wish it to be clear that I will not hesitate to take action if his [her son’s] enjoyment of school is in any way affected.”

The two recipients of the email complained to the Law Society that Macmorris chose to include an email sign off referring to her status as a practising lawyer in an attempt to bully and intimidate them.

The standards committee decided to take no further action on the complaint. On the evidence before it, the committee noted that Macmorris’ conduct was not connected with providing regulated services, and that the conduct did not breach any relevant rules or regulations.

Macmorris’ statement on its own could not amount to a failure to maintain appropriate standards of professionalism, the committee said.

However, a lawyer who included their practice details in a private email ran the risk that a member of the public would be misled about the capacity in which the lawyer was communicating and their intentions, resulting in a complaint being made.

“Practitioners should therefore consider the tone and content of such correspondence, together with the way in which they hold themselves out when sending it,” the committee said.

“The standards committee’s advice is that a practitioner, who in correspondence discloses their professional identity, should make it clear in what capacity he or she is acting when sending that correspondence,” the committee said.

They should also “ensure that the tone and content is in accordance with the rules that govern their conduct”.

Last updated on the 22nd December 2017