New course will teach legal ethics to budding solicitors

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SOLICITORS ARE, for the first time, to be given lessons in morality. The legal ethics classes will help young lawyers understand such potentially thorny problems as troublesome relationships with clients.

The decision to appoint a permanent professor in legal ethics at Guildford College of Law, the first chair of its kind at a British college, follows concern over the level of complaints against solicitors.

The latest figures show that there is a backlog of 17,000 complaints waiting to be settled by the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (OSS). Only this week the OSS's director, Peter Ross, resigned after he was suspended by the Law Society for writing to complainants to tell them they could not be dealt with for a year.

Professor Nigel Savage, chief executive of the College of Law in Guildford, said that it was essential morals were put on the agenda so that "solicitors are fully aware of their professional obligations". The new appointment of Professor Peter Camp would, he said, help to show that solicitors were committed to maintaining high ethical standards.

Professor Savage said this was a core element of the solicitors' profession and something the Law Society should be giving more attention to. He added: "In the drive to make lawyers into money-making concerns you can forget the one thing they [clients] come to their solicitors for - a commitment to ethical standards."

Professor Camp wants the Law Society to follow the example of the Bar Associations in the United States, where annual updates in legal ethics are a compulsory part of a lawyer's training.

It is hoped that the appointment will help to answer barristers' criticism that solicitors were not part of a club which guaranteed high professional standards. "A commitment to ethical standards," said Professor Savage, "distinguishes a profession from a trade."

The current professional skills course, which all graduates must pass before becoming solicitors, includes a compulsory module in ethics and professional responsibility. Professor Camp will now design new courses in morality.

Professor Camp has blazed a trail in raising ethical standards in the legal profession. In 1985 he became the first director of education and professional ethics at a law firm, Clifford Turner, now Clifford Chance, the largest legal business in the UK.