Is it Appropriate to Act for the Potential Client?

Considering whether you should act for a client goes beyond considering conflict of interest. Section 3.4-1 of the Code of Conduct sets out your responsibility to not place yourself in a position where you may end up in a conflict of interest, but the commentary in this section also discusses the importance of the duty of loyalty.

The Fiduciary Relationship, the Duty of Loyalty and Conflicting Interests

[4] The rule governing conflicts of interest is founded in the duty of loyalty which is grounded in the law governing fiduciaries. The lawyer-client relationship is based on trust. It is a fiduciary relationship and as such, the lawyer has a duty of loyalty to the client. To maintain public confidence in the integrity of the legal profession and the administration of justice, in which lawyers play a key role, it is essential that lawyers respect the duty of loyalty. Arising from the duty of loyalty are other duties, such as a duty to commit to the client’s cause, the duty of confidentiality, the duty of candour and the duty to avoid conflicting interests.

[5] A client must be assured of the lawyer’s undivided loyalty, free from any material impairment of the lawyer and client relationship. The relationship may be irreparably damaged where the lawyer’s representation of one client is directly adverse to another client’s immediate legal interests. One client may legitimately fear that the lawyer will not pursue the representation out of deference to the other client.

Other Duties Arising from the Duty of Loyalty

[6] The lawyer’s duty of confidentiality is owed to both current and former clients, with the related duty not to attack the legal work done during a retainer or to undermine the former client’s position on a matter that was central to the retainer.

[7] The lawyer’s duty of commitment to the client’s cause prevents the lawyer from summarily and unexpectedly dropping a client to circumvent conflict of interest rules. The client may legitimately feel betrayed if the lawyer ceases to act for the client to avoid a conflict of interest.

[8] The duty of candour requires a lawyer or law firm to advise an existing client of all matters relevant to the retainer.

For example, a potential client may be seeking representation against a party that you may wish to represent or be part of an industry or other group within which you act for others. Accepting a client in this situation will make you more likely to end up in a conflict of interest. When screening clients, it is important to remember that if the client or their issue are not a good fit for your practice, then it is okay to say “no”.

Another situation you may wish to carefully consider is acting for friends and family. At some point in your career, you will likely be approached by friends or family for legal advice. While the most natural inclination will be to help them, acting for friends and family can easily become fraught with complications.

The biggest risk when acting for family and friends is the loss of objectivity. No matter how professional you may be, your emotional connection with friends and family will make it extremely difficult for you to remain independent and remain emotionally uninvolved. It may also impact your ability to satisfy the duty of candour, in that you may be disinclined to deliver bad news, or to deliver opinions that will not be accepted or well-received by the friend or family member. While there is no rule preventing you from working with friends and family, you should carefully consider the legal matter and the person bringing it to you and determine whether it is appropriate for you to take on their matter.