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The Limits of a Lawyer’s Duty to their Client

As many of you already know, Lawyers can be extremely useful in various situations. Some of the ways they can help you include writing your will, buying your first house, starting a civil claim for you, or even defending you in court. Lawyers are so helpful because they know the law, have experience in the field you require, and know how to navigate the legal system. Therefore, when you hire a Lawyer, you are asking them to use their knowledge and expertise to help protect or further your interest. This results in the Lawyer owing you a duty to act in your best interest.

However, one of the largest misconceptions about a Lawyer’s duty to their client, is that it is limitless. That is to say, clients sometimes feel that by hiring a Lawyer, the Lawyer is bound to do whatever the client requests, which is not the case. Although Lawyers are supposed to advocate for their client’s position, there are certain limits to this duty. Hiring a Lawyer is not the same as hiring a hit-man, regardless of the amount of money you pay them. Lawyers have to draw the line somewhere, which is reflected fairly clearly in the Code of Professional Conduct, written by the Law Society of Alberta. This Code sets out all the rules and regulations which all Albertan Lawyers are bound by. The purpose of these rules and limits on a Lawyers actions, is to protect the public interest.

Some examples of a Lawyer’s limits to representation are as follows:

  • Lawyers cannot lie for you - this would be against their professional duty to the law society. A Lawyers job is to uphold and help further the progress of the law. If they start lying to their counterparts or to the court, simply to get a hand up, then they are jeopardizing the fair administration of the law and could weaken public respect for the profession. Even simply misleading the court could be construed as breaking their duty to the legal profession. However, this is not meant to discourage clients from telling their Lawyer the full truth, since they are unable to do their job to the best of their ability unless they know the full facts and details of the case.
  • Lawyers cannot be unreasonable for you - this would bring discredit to the legal profession. Lawyers already have a fairly iffy reputation, which unfortunately, can sometimes be attributed back to their clients asking for unreasonable things. Being difficult simply for the joy of being difficult, or to cause the other party difficulty, is not supported by the legal profession. Having said that, playing hard ball during negotiations is a very useful tool for those lawyers who know how and when this is appropriate. However, being unreasonable and difficult when there is no purpose has a negative effect on a lawyer’s reputation.
  • Lawyers cannot commit or assist you in committing a crime - this is a rule for obvious reasons. The primary purpose of the legal field is to uphold the justice of the law. Therefore, when a client asks a Lawyer to break the law, they are in essence asking them to go against their general beliefs and to compromise their ethics. In this type of situation, not only do Lawyers have a duty to refuse their client’s request, they also have a duty to withdraw their counsel if the client persists, and to inform the proper authorities of the potential crime if another person could be harmed.

Overall, although Lawyers are here to help you with your legal problems, they also have a duty to the courts, to the profession and to the general public. So please, do not put your Lawyer between a rock and a hard place by asking them to do things such as lie, be unreasonable or commit a crime. These types of requests force your Lawyer to choose between their duty to you as a client, and their duty to others, which could affect your ability to find good representation.

By Eryn J. Cunningham
October 4, 2011

Serving Central Alberta


This document is intended to be used for information purposes only.
Due to the ever changing nature of law, you should consult with one of our lawyers if you have specific legal questions.

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