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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

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The Legal Practitioners Fidelity Fund - empowering South Africans to use legal services with confidence

Our role as a fidelity fund guarantee is to protect people against loss from the misappropriation of trust funds by attorneys.

Our role as a fidelity fund guarantee is to protect people against loss from the misappropriation of trust funds by attorneys.

Published Apr 25, 2022


By Motlatsi Molefe

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We have emerged from an unprecedented couple of years as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was an event none of us was prepared for, but one that none-the-less forced every organisation to re-evaluate its role within society. This was especially true for the Legal Practitioners Fidelity Fund whose mandate is to protect consumers who use legal services and to enhance confidence in the legal industry so South Africans can be encouraged to use services provided by legal practitioners.

For over 80 years, our role as a fidelity fund guarantee, has been to protect people against loss that results from the misappropriation of trust funds by attorneys and now advocates who hold a Fidelity Fund Certificate.

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This includes instances where an attorney or advocate acts as executor or administrator in a deceased estate, or a trustee in an insolvent estate and money or property is entrusted to such a practitioner.

Our primary purpose has been to ensure that victims of such theft are promptly and fully compensated for their loss.

It can be particularly daunting for people to deal with legal practitioners as many still do not understand the formal and technical language of legal documents. This often results in clients feeling disempowered in legal consultations.

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As a client of a legal practitioner, you have several rights, which when exercised can assist you in mitigating the risk of becoming susceptible to misappropriation of funds so entrusted to the practitioner.

You have the right to professional, honest, and unbiased advice at all times and to agree the type of service you can expect and receive. It is also important to note that you have the right to clear explanations in terms you can understand – you should feel free in consultations to ask as many questions as you need to and as many times as you need to.

Another important aspect is to find out from the start of the consultation what you are hoping to achieve and aim to make sure that your expectations are realistic. This will ensure that you are aware of the likely success of your matter and not have your legal practitioner do unnecessary work that will lead to unnecessary expenses.

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From the outset, always seek an explanation of the cost implications of the services you require, as well as how the costs are likely to be calculated. Along with this, ask to be kept informed of costs regularly, so that you can work out if a particular course of action is worth following financially. This also includes access to a clear bill which shows the work done and the amounts charged.

When engaging with any legal firm, you also have the right to know who will be handling your matter. In terms of the Legal Practice Act of 2014, attorneys and advocates in South Africa are registered on the practising roll at the Legal Practice Council and you can verify if they are in good standing.

It is your responsibility to confirm that an attorney or advocate is on the practising roll, and more importantly to confirm that a legal practitioner is in possession of a Fidelity Fund Certificate.

Knowledge of the latter part will determine whether your claim gets paid or not, should you lodge a complaint regarding the services of a legal practitioner whom you were aware did not possess of the certificate at the time you entrusted money or property to.

You can contact the relevant regional office of the Legal Practice Council or the Law Society of South Africa’s website, where all the relevant details are listed.

Remember that is it important to always remain alert and vigilant when dealing with any service provider and should you feel that your lawyer is acting in an unethical or unprofessional manner, you have the right to lodge a complaint with that lawyer’s firm. Should the matter not be dealt with in a satisfactory manner, the Legal Practice Council is your next port of call.

The Legal Practitioners Fidelity Fund is continuously educating consumers and contributing to upskilling the legal profession in order to enhance better services to the public.