Does the Client Have a Case?

A potential client may come to you with a very personal issue that they are passionate about, but you may not feel their case has any merit. Code of Conduct section 3.2-2 describes the duty of honesty and candour. As a part of this duty, a lawyer must provide the potential client with an honest assessment as to the strength of the client’s case.

Honesty and Candour

3.2-2 When advising a client, a lawyer must be honest and candid and must inform the client of all information known to the lawyer that may affect the interests of the client in the matter.

[1] A lawyer should disclose to the client all the circumstances of the lawyer’s relations to the parties and interest in or connection with the matter, if any that might influence whether the client selects or continues to retain the lawyer.

[2] A lawyer’s duty to a client who seeks legal advice is to give the client a competent opinion based on a sufficient knowledge of the relevant facts, an adequate consideration of the applicable law and the lawyer’s own experience and expertise. The advice must be open and undisguised and must clearly disclose what the lawyer honestly thinks about the merits and probable results.

[3] Occasionally, a lawyer must be firm with a client. Firmness, without rudeness, is not a violation of the rule. In communicating with the client, the lawyer may disagree with the client’s perspective, or may have concerns about the client’s position on a matter and may give advice that will not please the client. This may legitimately require firm and animated discussion with the client.

By considering this question in the client screening process and being upfront, you can save both you and your potential client time and frustration. Every case has value, but it is up to you to evaluate what that value is, both to you and your client. If you do not believe a client’s matter has merit, you should be empathetic but candid with the potential client. Tell them why you are not taking on their matter. If you do so, be firm, and be sure to treat the client respectfully, regardless of their opinion as to the merits of their case.