Witness

There are times when even I am surprised at the behaviour of certain members of the legal profession here in Poland. Of course there are lawyers everywhere who fall short of what we would consider to be acceptable standards – whether or not any ethical rule of the lawyer’s professional body has been breached – but the case I was told about last week was the more shocking because it involved a newly qualified lawyer.

The lawyer in question had been working, while still a trainee, for a few months at a law firm and had been assisting on one particular case that required the lawyer to attend a shareholders’ meeting as proxy of a shareholder who was a client of the firm. Shortly afterwards the lawyer left the firm and, having passed the final examinations, was admitted to the local bar.

Months later the lawyer was listed as a witness in proceedings involving the client and another party as was called to give evidence as to what had taken place at the shareholders’ meeting. The lawyer appears to have considered appearing as a witness to be too inconvenient and asked that the law firm write to the court withdrawing the witness from the case. By way of added incentive, the lawyer made it clear that if this was not done any statement made to the court as witness would be hostile to the firm’s client. In other words, the lawyer was threatening the law firm by suggesting that rather than give a wholly accurate description of all that took place the lawyer would present the evidence in a way detrimental the client simply to punish the law firm for the inconvenience of having been called as a witness.

Interestingly the relevant ethical rules would have allowed that lawyer to decline to give evidence in a case in respect of which the lawyer possessed confidential information but, on the apparent facts of this case, since the lawyer was been asked merely to relate what had taken place at a meeting of shareholders in a case in which the lawyer has not been involved for over a year, the lawyer’s attitude seems rather surprising. In addition, having been summoned by the court, the lawyer may not refuse to appear but must, if so inclined, stand before the court and explain why no evidence would be given. However, rather than follow the correct procedure, the lawyer decided to threaten the law firm instead.

I was not alone in being shocked by the young lawyer’s attitude. To resort to what was – in layman’s term at least – blackmail because of personal inconvenience shows an alarming disregard for both the client and the legal process. Irrespective of the technicalities of the professional rules this behaviour was simply wrong, is a very poor reflection on the lawyer concerned.

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