The importance of fulfilling your duties and obligations

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Jennifer Dawes of Colin Biggers & Paisley Lawyers, explains why it’s important for business owners to deliver on all commitments and obligations they’ve entered into with their clients to ensure they keep their clients – and keep them happy.

In life and business, terms such as "duties" and "obligations" are bandied about quite frequently. If I were to ask you to define those terms, it would be a relatively simple task. We appreciate that it's good business to fulfil our duties, responsibilities and obligations to our clients and colleagues. But do we really fulfil those obligations? Do we actually adhere to the precepts that make good business?

Lawyers who don't fulfil their obligations are taking a big risk. According to the Civil Dispute Resolution Act 2011, lawyers are obliged to try to help their clients resolve disputes as quickly, inexpensively and efficiently as possible. They are supposed to adhere to this principle not just because the Act says so – it is at the core of their ethical obligations as lawyers.

In a decision handed down on March 23 2012 in the case of Superior IP International Pty Ltd v Ahearn Fox Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys, the judge awarded costs personally against a lawyer for failure to comply with the obligations and duties imposed on parties to a dispute (and those who represent them).

Specifically, the lawyers involved in the case failed to take genuine steps to resolve the dispute and failed to file a genuine steps statement prior to commencing litigation.

As the judge noted scathingly, "This is the sort of conduct that brings the legal profession into disrepute, that significantly undermines the efficient disposal of civil litigation and that has the potential to erode public confidence in the administration of justice in this country".

Likewise, fulfilling obligations is important for all business owners. While the above example is specific to the obligations and duties of lawyers to their clients, its circumstances are broadly applicable to the greater business realm. Even if you are unlikely to face a costs order for failing to comply with your obligations to your corporate or business clients, you may face other bad outcomes such as a loss of business and damage to your reputation.

It's common to make promises, consent to deadlines and make undertakings. It's part of business. What's important is what we do to ensure that we keep our clients or customers happy and fulfil our obligations to them. If you have made these promises, good business dictates that you actually need to deliver.Jennifer_DawesLG

Four tips for good business

1. If you make a promise, keep it. People are generally reasonable. If a customer is trying to subject you to what you regard as an unreasonable time frame for the completion of a task, make a few enquiries. Chances are that the customer has their own client or customer pressing them for completion of the job. Perhaps together you can reach a mutually agreeable timetable.

2. Pick up the phone. With continued advances in technology, the business world has the potential to become very impersonal. Our worlds are full of text messages, emails, updates and tweets. Pick up the phone and call the client. You get an immediate response to your query and new or different ideas might come out of the conversation. Two heads are better than one.

3. Understand your client. Don't just limit your understanding to the current project or task. Get to know your client, their business, their people, what drives them and their business.

4. Encourage feedback. It is important to create an open and honest relationship with your client to ensure they feel comfortable providing feedback on your work and your relationship. At the end of the day it is better to know what your client really thinks, as it will ensure you continue to deliver exactly what they need.

By ensuring you fulfil your duties to your clients and customers, you will be creating an environment in which their business and your business can flourish and you avoid bad outcomes.

For more information on insurance litigation, email Jennifer Dawes.

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