Rethinking Legal Profession: Lawyers Ethical Conduct During Covid-19

Guardians of law, including the judiciary and legal professionals, have become the sufferers of COVID-19 in effectively rendering their functions. The Supreme Court, through its notification, confined their functioning of the Court to “urgent matters” only.[1]  Consequently, owing to the lockdown restriction, courts went into a full closure. Henceforth, which called necessity for the legal industry to incorporate technology and work remotely. Modification in working conditions requires new skills and digital technology to work productively.

 

The majority of attorneys in our country work independently in various Courts & Tribunals across India whose basis of income is only limited to the extent of litigation are confronting economic difficulties. The problem is even worse for the first generation’s lawyers who have no financial support and just stepped into the profession.[2] The Supreme Court refused to consider a petition which requested exemption to advocates for payment of rent of their chambers during the lockdown. ‘We are not prone to entertain the petition under Article 32 of the Constitution. Hence, the petition is dismissed. The Court dismissed the petition sorting for waiver of rent for lawyers during the lockdown period.[3]

 

The Advocates Act, 1961 has provision for safeguarding the rights, privileges & interests of Advocates on State Bar Council’s roll. Section 6 (2) of the Advocate Act asks for creating such an emergency fund for the advocates’ benefit. Rule 47 Chapter VI Bar Council Rules states, “An advocate shall not personally engage in any business; but he may be a sleeping partner in a firm doing business provided that in the opinion of the appropriate State Bar Council, the nature of the business is not inconsistent with the dignity of the profession”[4]

 

According to the bar council of India rules, Any advocate cannot indulge himself into any other business, tampering the dignity of the profession. Nevertheless, the pandemic has imposed various economic and financial restrictions on the advocate, and lack of assistance schemes have left them vulnerable to earning their living.

 

Legal ethics are the set of guidelines and regulations that determine the professional conduct of the Advocate. This creates the kind of commitments any legal practitioner owns to people and the State. Due to the social distancing norms, advocates found it challenging to guarantee their ethical and reasonable conduct due to diverging personal contract with the client, to maintain a relationship with the client who may not be technical friendly. Clients always wish to meet his attorney to discuss the issue and refer to the documents; this contract is becoming more virtual nowadays.

 

Confidentiality is a major issue when working remotely. Nowadays, the documents are often being shared through electronic means currently, through email, or other methods, clients are often worried about confidentiality. An advocate must take reasonable steps to maintain client confidentiality. Advocates are expected to diligently handle clients’ documents if possible set up the work area. They should be technically cautious while securing clients’ data electronically. Accordingly, the advocate must entrust his client, that confidentiality is duly taken care of. Access to justice is lowered due to closure to courts targeting lawyers’ economic slowdown, more cases of human rights violation and police brutality were reported. However, there were significantly fewer sources of legal aid.[5]

 

Lawyers are seen organizing and attending webinars, workshops, indulge in e conferencing, writing articles, delivering e lectures, appearing virtually in courts, and systematic knowledge update are working of the lawyers during COVID -19. It is time to accept many ‘new normal’ as they come, with a very positive outlook. Changes are suitable for all. The Bhagavat Gita retells “Sukhani, dukhani cha, chakrabat paribartote“.

 

Disclaimer: The views are personal.

Tithi Manchanda

5th Year

Amity University, NOIDA.

 

[1] Supreme Court of India, Circular, available at: https://main.sci.gov.in/pdf/cir/26032020_134544.pdf , March 26, 2020.

[2] Kanu Sarda,”Tough case to handle virtually’: New lawyer’s practice hit-hard due to COVID-19” The New Indian Express, Nov, . 23, 2020.

[3] Debayan Roy, “Lawyers not entitled to special consideration: SC refuses to entertain plea seeking rental exemption for advocates during COVID-19 lockdown” Aprl. 3, 2020.

[4] Bar Council Of India Rules, The Advocates Act, 1961 (Act 25 of 1961).

 

[5]  ‘COVID-19 Series: The impact of the crisis on lawyers in India’, available at: https://lawyersforlawyers.org/en/covid-19-series-the-impact-of-the-crisis-on-lawyers-in-india-2/, (Visited on 06 February, 2021).

 

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