The Client Who Insists on Improper Steps

A client bent on vengeance may expect or demand that the lawyer cross ethical lines to promote the client's cause. For example, this client may urge the lawyer to present misleading evidence to the court or promote proceedings that are meritless, motivated by malice, or brought solely to injure another party. Lawyers are instructed by the client and will want to take steps that make the client happy; however, lawyers faced with these types of expectations or demands must understand and adhere to the ethical limits on the duty to advocate and be prepared to clearly explain these obligations to the client when needed.

Keep in mind that the duty to advocate is subject to the limits of the law and the requirement to treat the tribunal or court with candour, fairness, courtesy, and respect: see Code of Conduct, Rule 5.1(1). As a lawyer, you are professionally obligated to discourage meritless legal proceedings: see Rule 5.1-1[10]. You must also adhere to all ethical limits on advocacy set out in the Code, including Rule 5.1-2(a)-(v).

Lawyers also have a professional obligation to be honest and candid with the client concerning the merits of the client’s case: see Rule 3.2-3 of the Code. Clear, candid communications in this regard may be key to avoiding ongoing unrealistic expectations on the part of a client with a difficult case. 

Should the client persist in giving improper or inappropriate instructions, Rule 3.7 of the Code addresses considerations and appropriate steps to take when withdrawing from the lawyer-client relationship. You should also consult the Alberta Rules of Court, or any applicable rules or practices in relation to a proceeding before a court or tribunal. For example, Code of Conduct Rule 3.7(4) sets out specific requirements for withdrawing from a criminal proceeding.

Last modified: Wednesday, 16 August 2023, 2:24 PM