WRITTEN BY: MONICA TAYLOR, UQ PRO BONO CENTRE
The tricky ethical area of client capacity has received expert consideration in the new Queensland Handbook for Practitioners on Legal Capacity. Launched on 19 May 2015 by the Honourable Justice Ann Lyons, the Handbook is a major contribution to an area of law that can easily trip up the finest of legal minds. Her Honour predicted that the Handbook will find a home on the desk of all Queensland lawyers who contend with this issue, not least her own.
The Handbook’s existence is the result of a tremendous pro bono collaboration between Queensland Advocacy Incorporated (QAI) and Allens. Their efforts demonstrate how a pro bono partnership can leverage a result greater than the sum of its individual contributions. Projects like this invite us to reflect on the extent of our profession’s commitment to pro bono; what started as a simple idea has resulted in a valuable statewide resource with official QLS endorsement.
With their expertise in the areas of mental health and disability law, QAI lawyers knew there was a need for a toolkit to guide practitioners on capacity. Unable to produce such a resource on their limited operating budget, QAI approached Allens who agreed to take on the project on a pro bono basis. Over a two-year period, the firm dedicated hundreds of hours developing the Handbook. As the project progressed, Allens and QAI sought the involvement of many agencies to contribute in various ways, including through focus groups and by providing feedback on review drafts. QAI lists twelve contributing organisations on its website including Legal Aid Queensland, the Public Trustee of Queensland, the Office of the Adult Guardian, the Legal Services Commission, the Queensland Law Society and the Seniors Legal and Support Service. Law students through the UQ Pro Bono Centre also played their part by undertaking case law research during the initial project phase.
This pro bono partnership exhibited many features of effective collaboration. There was an adaptable project timeframe and direct consultation built into the planning stage. A common outcome propelled everyone to work together and to bring their respective strengths to the table. For the students, it was their research skills; for QAI and other CLCs, their expertise in frontline service delivery and working with vulnerable people; for Allens, a firm-wide commitment to pro bono and considerable human resources that not only included ‘lawyer time’ but also layout and publication skills. This planned and purposeful engagement meant that a ‘too-hard-basket’ situation simply did not eventuate. Instead, Queensland lawyers now have access to a high quality resource to help them navigate the complex area of legal capacity. This will ultimately increase access to justice for vulnerable individuals as lawyers will be less likely to refuse to act out of fear the client does not have capacity to instruct.
The Queensland Handbook for Practitioners on Legal Capacity is available online at the QAI website: http://t.co/9inJnDxXVK The Queensland Law Society has endorsed the Handbook for use by Queensland solicitors.