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DEALINGS WITH ATTORNEYS

The Attorneys profession, in our country, is steeped in tradition with a very high moral standards and ethical practices. Whilst one is obliged to fight the cause of a client uncompromisingly and fearlessly, there are certain standards and expectations when dealing with attorneys who act for the other party or parties involved in the action. Attorneys are expected to treat each other with respect and courtesy. Treating one's colleague with disrespect and in a discourteous fashion is regarded as unprofessional conduct for which an attorney can be sanctioned.

A client has the inalienable right to an attorney of his own choice. He has the right to be satisfied with the efforts of his attorney and he is afforded the right to change an attorney in midstream, if he feels the slightest bit uncomfortable with the efforts of his attorney. When an attorney is changed midstream, there are a certain set of ethical rules which the new attorney and the outgoing attorney are bound to follow. The new attorney is entitled to call on the old attorney to provide him with the contents of the client file, which the old attorney is obliged to hand over, once his account has been settled or if arrangements to settle the account to the satisfaction of the old attorney have been made documented and signed.

By and large, attorneys act towards each other with courtesy and respect, and generally speaking a collegial relationship exists. Like everything else in life, unfortunately, there are those who flout the rules and most fortunately, these are in the very small minority. However, as William Shakespeare said "the evil that man does lives after him and the good is oft interred in his bones." These notorious words exemplify human nature in that those few who misbehave prejudice those who do well and act professionally. The actions of the few always impact adversely on the actions of the many.

In the main, we are pleased to advise that our firm enjoys a good collegial relationship with our colleagues. In this article, we wish to relate a set of circumstances which we have very recently experienced, and we will leave you the reader the opportunity of drawing your own conclusions.

Our firm was instructed to represent an elderly man who was seriously injured in a motor accident, by prosecuting a claim for compensation against the Road Accident Fund. This victim, Mr T sustained serious injuries to his leg, which will undoubtedly leave permanent damage, and as a result he will be unable to continue his occupation. His injuries have left him unemployed. Although he claims to have lost consciousness at the scene of the accident, the medical records and clinical notes relating to his injury and the treatment he received therefor make no reference whatsoever to any brain damage. Action has been instituted against the Road Accident Fund, in the Johannesburg High Court, and the case is set to be determined in April 2009.

A few months ago, and obviously without the knowledge of anyone in our firm, Mr T was approached by a so-called "claims canvasser" for another firm of attorneys, who practice as such from opulent offices situated in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, in particular Rosebank. This firm, like ours, acts for injured parties who had sustained their injuries in motor accidents. The claims canvasser represented to Mr T that the firm he works for are far better able to handle these matters in our firm, and will be able to conclude the matter in very quick time. Mr T was told that if he changes firms there would be no problem at all in the new firm uplifting the file of papers from us. The claims canvasser was handed a business card from our firm which had been given to Mr T by us once we had secured his instructions to act.

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