The ‘Trustline’ campaign: Promoting trust and ethics in our profession

October 1st, 2013
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By Barbara Whittle

The Council of the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) and the Board of Control of the Attorneys Fidelity Fund (AFF) recently launched the Trustline campaign for the attorneys’ profession. ‘The campaign has arisen from the knowledge that we are a proud, service-oriented and ethical profession, but also the acknowledgement that there are members of our profession – very few in the overall scheme – who fall short of the ethical norms that define us as a profession,’ said LSSA Co-chairpersons Kathleen Matolo-Dlepu and David Bekker.

The LSSA Council took seriously the increasing indications of unethical, unprofessional and fraudulent conduct by attorneys in court judgments, media reports – often sensationalist – and complaints to the law societies, as well as the alarming escalation of claims being settled by the AFF for misappropriation of moneys by attorneys.

The Trustline campaign has been designed to function on two levels –

  • on the one hand the campaign invites trust in attorneys and their services; and
  • on the other, it urges anyone to report suspected theft from trust accounts and other unethical behaviour by an attorney through Trustline.

The message is a positive one, inviting trust, rather than focusing solely on the ‘whistle-blower’ aspect.

‘We trust our colleagues because we are confident of their genuine commitment to serve the public as properly trained professionals. However, dishonesty within the profession will not be tolerated because, as attorneys, we are in a position of trust towards our clients and the money and information they entrust to us. Integrity is central to that trust,’ said Ms Matolo-Dlepu and Mr Bekker.

They added: ‘The current regulatory framework ensures that complaints by members of the public are investigated by the relevant provincial law society and appropriate action is taken. In 2012, 72 attorneys were struck from the roll by the High Court. This is 72 of 21 400 attorneys – or only 0,03% of all practising attorneys. However, even 0,03% is too many. We want the public to be able to trust attorneys. If they have any reason not to do so, we want them to tell us.’

About Trustline

Trustline provides a complaints line and tip-off service for members of the public and others who may wish to report alleged and suspected unethical, fraudulent, corrupt or dishonest behavior by attorneys or their staff members, even confidentially. Trustline is operated independently as part of the Deloitte Tip-Offs Anonymous system that allows for confidentiality and anonymity where appropriate. Calls are screened and analysed by professional agents and report analysts trained to differentiate between genuine and malicious calls and identify these as such when reports are made to the relevant statutory provincial law society.

The AFF will receive reports as part of its risk-aversion strategy so that the fund can be secure for its core function of protecting the public against misappropriation by attorneys in the years ahead. From the LSSA’s side, reports will be used to analyse trends and, hopefully, use these to respond appropriately to the negative publicity about the attorneys’ profession.

The Trustline campaign is supported by the six constituent members of the LSSA: (the Cape Law Society, the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society, the Law Society of the Free State, the Law Society of the Northern Provinces, the Black Lawyers Association and the National Association of Democratic Lawyers), and funded by the AFF.

  • More information on the Trustline campaign, and examples of the campaign concept, can be viewed on the website of the LSSA (www.LSSA.org.za), the AFF and those of the four provincial law societies by clicking on the Trustline icon.

Compiled by Barbara Whittle, communication manager, Law Society of South Africa, barbara@lssa.org.za

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2013 (Oct) DR 23.