Chapter 3 – Relationship to Clients – annotated

3.1  Competence

3.1-1  In this section

“competent lawyer” means a lawyer who has and applies relevant knowledge, skills and attributes in a manner appropriate to each matter undertaken on behalf of a client and the nature and terms of the lawyer’s engagement, including:

(a)     knowing general legal principles and procedures and the substantive law and procedure for the areas of law in which the lawyer practises;

(b)     investigating facts, identifying issues, ascertaining client objectives, considering possible options and developing and advising the client on appropriate courses of action;

(c)     implementing as each matter requires, the chosen course of action through the application of appropriate skills, including:

(i)         legal research;

(ii)        analysis;

(iii)       application of the law to the relevant facts;

(iv)       writing and drafting;

(v)        negotiation;

(vi)       alternative dispute resolution;

(vii)      advocacy; and

(viii)     problem solving;

(d)     communicating at all relevant stages of a matter in a timely and effective manner;

(e)     performing all functions conscientiously, diligently and in a timely and cost-effective manner;

(f)      applying intellectual capacity, judgment and deliberation to all functions;

(g)     complying in letter and spirit with all rules pertaining to the appropriate professional conduct of lawyers;

(h)     recognizing limitations in one’s ability to handle a matter or some aspect of it and taking steps accordingly to ensure the client is appropriately served;

(i)      managing one’s practice effectively; 

(j)      pursuing appropriate professional development to maintain and enhance legal knowledge and skills; and

(k)     otherwise adapting to changing professional requirements, standards, techniques and practices.



3.1-2  A lawyer must perform all legal services undertaken on a client’s behalf to the standard of a competent lawyer.



[1]  As a member of the legal profession, a lawyer is held out as knowledgeable, skilled and capable in the practice of law. Accordingly, the client is entitled to assume that the lawyer has the ability and capacity to deal adequately with all legal matters to be undertaken on the client’s behalf.

[2]  Competence is founded upon both ethical and legal principles. This rule addresses the ethical principles. Competence involves more than an understanding of legal principles: it involves an adequate knowledge of the practice and procedures by which such principles can be effectively applied. To accomplish this, the lawyer should keep abreast of developments in all areas of law in which the lawyer practises.

[2.1]  For a discussion of the correct procedure in swearing an affidavit or taking a solemn declaration, see Appendix A to this Code.

[3]  In deciding whether the lawyer has employed the requisite degree of knowledge and skill in a particular matter, relevant factors will include:

(a)     the complexity and specialized nature of the matter;

(b)     the lawyer’s general experience;

(c)     the lawyer’s training and experience in the field;

(d)     the preparation and study the lawyer is able to give the matter; and

(e)     whether it is appropriate or feasible to refer the matter to, or associate or consult with, a lawyer of established competence in the field in question.

[4]  In some circumstances, expertise in a particular field of law may be required; often the necessary degree of proficiency will be that of the general practitioner.

[5]  A lawyer should not undertake a matter without honestly feeling competent to handle it, or being able to become competent without undue delay, risk or expense to the client. The lawyer who proceeds on any other basis is not being honest with the client. This is an ethical consideration and is distinct from the standard of care that a tribunal would invoke for purposes of determining negligence.

[6]  A lawyer must recognize a task for which the lawyer lacks competence and the disservice that would be done to the client by undertaking that task. If consulted about such a task, the lawyer should:

(a)     decline to act;

(b)     obtain the client’s instructions to retain, consult or collaborate with a lawyer who is competent for that task; or

(c)     obtain the client’s consent for the lawyer to become competent without undue delay, risk or expense to the client.

[7]  The lawyer should also recognize that competence for a particular task may require seeking advice from or collaborating with experts in scientific, accounting or other non-legal fields, and, when it is appropriate, the lawyer should not hesitate to seek the client’s instructions to consult experts.

[7.1]  When a lawyer considers whether to provide legal services under a limited scope retainer the lawyer must carefully assess in each case whether, under the circumstances, it is possible to render those services in a competent manner. An agreement for such services does not exempt a lawyer from the duty to provide competent representation. The lawyer should consider the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation. The lawyer should ensure that the client is fully informed of the nature of the arrangement and clearly understands the scope and limitation of the services. See also rule 3.2-1.1.

[7.2]  In providing short-term summary legal services under rules 3.4-11.1 to 3.4-11.4, a lawyer should disclose to the client the limited nature of the services provided and determine whether any additional legal services beyond the short-term summary legal services may be required or are advisable, and encourage the client to seek such further assistance.

[8]  A lawyer should clearly specify the facts, circumstances and assumptions on which an opinion is based, particularly when the circumstances do not justify an exhaustive investigation and the resultant expense to the client. However, unless the client instructs otherwise, the lawyer should investigate the matter in sufficient detail to be able to express an opinion rather than mere comments with many qualifications.

[9]  A lawyer should be wary of bold and over-confident assurances to the client, especially when the lawyer’s employment may depend upon advising in a particular way.

[10]  In addition to opinions on legal questions, a lawyer may be asked for or may be expected to give advice on non-legal matters such as the business, economic, policy or social complications involved in the question or the course the client should choose. In many instances the lawyer’s experience will be such that the lawyer’s views on non-legal matters will be of real benefit to the client. The lawyer who expresses views on such matters should, if necessary and to the extent necessary, point out any lack of experience or other qualification in the particular field and should clearly distinguish legal advice from other advice.

[11]  In a multi-discipline practice, a lawyer must ensure that the client is made aware that the legal advice from the lawyer may be supplemented by advice or services from a non-lawyer. Advice or services from non-lawyer members of the firm unrelated to the retainer for legal services must be provided independently of and outside the scope of the legal services retainer and from a location separate from the premises of the multi-discipline practice. The provision of non-legal advice or services unrelated to the legal services retainer will also be subject to the constraints outlined in the Rules governing multi-discipline practices.

[12]  The requirement of conscientious, diligent and efficient service means that a lawyer should make every effort to provide timely service to the client. If the lawyer can reasonably foresee undue delay in providing advice or services, the client should be so informed.

[13]  The lawyer should refrain from conduct that may interfere with or compromise his or her capacity or motivation to provide competent legal services to the client and be aware of any factor or circumstance that may have that effect.

[14]  A lawyer who is incompetent does the client a disservice, brings discredit to the profession and may bring the administration of justice into disrepute. In addition to damaging the lawyer’s own reputation and practice, incompetence may also injure the lawyer’s partners and associates.

[15]  Incompetence, negligence and mistakes – This rule does not require a standard of perfection. An error or omission, even though it might be actionable for damages in negligence or contract, will not necessarily constitute a failure to maintain the standard of professional competence described by the rule. However, evidence of gross neglect in a particular matter or a pattern of neglect or mistakes in different matters may be evidence of such a failure, regardless of tort liability. While damages may be awarded for negligence, incompetence can give rise to the additional sanction of disciplinary action.

[[7.1] added 09/2013; [7.2] added 06/2016]


3.2  Quality of service

3.2-1  A lawyer has a duty to provide courteous, thorough and prompt service to clients. The quality of service required of a lawyer is service that is competent, timely, conscientious, diligent, efficient and civil.



[1]  This rule should be read and applied in conjunction with section 3.1 regarding competence.

[2]  A lawyer has a duty to provide a quality of service at least equal to that which lawyers generally expect of a competent lawyer in a like situation. An ordinarily or otherwise competent lawyer may still occasionally fail to provide an adequate quality of service.

[3]  A lawyer has a duty to communicate effectively with the client. What is effective will vary depending on the nature of the retainer, the needs and sophistication of the client and the need for the client to make fully informed decisions and provide instructions.

[4]  A lawyer should ensure that matters are attended to within a reasonable time frame. If the lawyer can reasonably foresee undue delay in providing advice or services, the lawyer has a duty to so inform the client, so that the client can make an informed choice about his or her options, such as whether to retain new counsel.

Examples of expected practices

[5]  The quality of service to a client may be measured by the extent to which a lawyer maintains certain standards in practice. The following list, which is illustrative and not exhaustive, provides key examples of expected practices in this area:

(a)     keeping a client reasonably informed;

(b)     answering reasonable requests from a client for information;

(c)     responding to a client’s telephone calls;

(d)     keeping appointments with a client, or providing a timely explanation or apology when unable to keep such an appointment;

(e)     taking appropriate steps to do something promised to a client, or informing or explaining to the client when it is not possible to do so; ensuring, where appropriate, that all instructions are in writing or confirmed in writing;

(f)      answering, within a reasonable time, any communication that requires a reply;

(g)     ensuring that work is done in a timely manner so that its value to the client is maintained;

(h)     providing quality work and giving reasonable attention to the review of documentation to avoid delay and unnecessary costs to correct errors or omissions;

(i)      maintaining office staff, facilities and equipment adequate to the lawyer’s practice;

(j)      informing a client of a proposal of settlement, and explaining the proposal properly;

(k)     providing a client with complete and accurate relevant information about a matter;

(l)      making a prompt and complete report when the work is finished or, if a final report cannot be made, providing an interim report when one might reasonably be expected;

(m)    avoidance of self-induced disability, for example from the use of intoxicants or drugs, that interferes with or prejudices the lawyer’s services to the client;

(n)     being civil.

[6]  A lawyer should meet deadlines, unless the lawyer is able to offer a reasonable explanation and ensure that no prejudice to the client will result. Whether or not a specific deadline applies, a lawyer should be prompt in prosecuting a matter, responding to communications and reporting developments to the client. In the absence of developments, contact with the client should be maintained to the extent the client reasonably expects.


Limited scope retainers

3.2-1.1 Before undertaking a limited scope retainer the lawyer must advise the client about the nature, extent and scope of the services that the lawyer can provide and must confirm in writing to the client as soon as practicable what services will be provided.



[1]  Reducing to writing the discussions and agreement with the client about the limited scope retainer assists the lawyer and client in understanding the limitations of the service to be provided and any risks of the retainer.

[2]  A lawyer who is providing legal services under a limited scope retainer should be careful to avoid acting in a way that suggests that the lawyer is providing full services to the client.

[3]  Where the limited services being provided include an appearance before a tribunal a lawyer must be careful not to mislead the tribunal as to the scope of the retainer and should consider whether disclosure of the limited nature of the retainer is required by the rules of practice or the circumstances.

[4]  A lawyer who is providing legal services under a limited scope retainer should consider how communications from opposing counsel in a matter should be managed (see rule 7.2-6.1).

[5]  This rule does not apply to situations in which a lawyer is providing summary advice, for example over a telephone hotline or as duty counsel, or to initial consultations that may result in the client retaining the lawyer.

[rule and commentary added 09/2013] 

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.

When the client is an organization

3.2-3 Although a lawyer may receive instructions from an officer, employee, agent or representative, when a lawyer is employed or retained by an organization, including a corporation, the lawyer must act for the organization in exercising his or her duties and in providing professional services.



[1]  A lawyer acting for an organization should keep in mind that the organization, as such, is the client and that a corporate client has a legal personality distinct from its shareholders, officers, directors and employees. While the organization or corporation acts and gives instructions through its officers, directors, employees, members, agents or representatives, the lawyer should ensure that it is the interests of the organization that are served and protected. Further, given that an organization depends on persons to give instructions, the lawyer should be satisfied that the person giving instructions for the organization is acting within that person’s authority.

[2]  In addition to acting for the organization, a lawyer may also accept a joint retainer and act for a person associated with the organization. For example, a lawyer may advise an officer of an organization about liability insurance. In such cases the lawyer acting for an organization should be alert to the prospects of conflicts of interests and should comply with the rules about the avoidance of conflicts of interests (section 3.4).

Encouraging compromise or settlement

3.2-A lawyer must advise and encourage a client to compromise or settle a dispute whenever it is possible to do so on a reasonable basis and must discourage the client from commencing or continuing useless legal proceedings.



[1]  A lawyer should consider the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) when appropriate, inform the client of ADR options and, if so instructed, take steps to pursue those options.

Threatening criminal or regulatory proceedings

3.2-5  A lawyer must not, in an attempt to gain a benefit for a client, threaten, or advise a client to threaten:

(a)     to initiate or proceed with a criminal or quasi-criminal charge; or

(b)     to make a complaint to a regulatory authority.



[1]  It is an abuse of the court or regulatory authority’s process to threaten to make or advance a complaint in order to secure the satisfaction of a private grievance. Even if a client has a legitimate entitlement to be paid monies, threats to take criminal or quasi-criminal action are not appropriate.

[2]  It is not improper, however, to notify the appropriate authority of criminal or quasi-criminal activities while also taking steps through the civil system.


Inducement for withdrawal of criminal or regulatory proceedings

3.2-6  A lawyer must not:

(a)     give or offer to give, or advise an accused or any other person to give or offer to give, any valuable consideration to another person in exchange for influencing the Crown or a regulatory authority’s conduct of a criminal or quasi-criminal charge or a complaint, unless the lawyer obtains the consent of the Crown or the regulatory authority to enter into such discussions;

(b)     accept or offer to accept, or advise a person to accept or offer to accept, any valuable consideration in exchange for influencing the Crown or a regulatory authority’s conduct of a criminal or quasi-criminal charge or a complaint, unless the lawyer obtains the consent of the Crown or regulatory authority to enter such discussions; or

(c)     wrongfully influence any person to prevent the Crown or regulatory authority from proceeding with charges or a complaint or to cause the Crown or regulatory authority to withdraw the complaint or stay charges in a criminal or quasi-criminal proceeding.



[1]  “Regulatory authority” includes professional and other regulatory bodies.

[2]  A lawyer for an accused or potential accused must never influence a complainant or potential complainant not to communicate or cooperate with the Crown. However, this rule does not prevent a lawyer for an accused or potential accused from communicating with a complainant or potential complainant to obtain factual information, arrange for restitution or an apology from an accused, or defend or settle any civil matters between the accused and the complainant. When a proposed resolution involves valuable consideration being exchanged in return for influencing the Crown or regulatory authority not to proceed with a charge or to seek a reduced sentence or penalty, the lawyer for the accused must obtain the consent of the Crown or regulatory authority prior to discussing such proposal with the complainant or potential complainant. Similarly, lawyers advising a complainant or potential complainant with respect to any such negotiations can do so only with the consent of the Crown or regulatory authority.

[3]  A lawyer cannot provide an assurance that the settlement of a related civil matter will result in the withdrawal of criminal or quasi-criminal charges, absent the consent of the Crown or regulatory authority.

[4]  When the complainant or potential complainant is unrepresented, the lawyer should have regard to the rules respecting unrepresented persons and make it clear that the lawyer is acting exclusively in the interests of the accused. If the complainant or potential complainant is vulnerable, the lawyer should take care not to take unfair or improper advantage of the circumstances. When communicating with an unrepresented complainant or potential complainant, it is prudent to have a witness present.

Dishonesty, fraud by client

3.2-A lawyer must not engage in any activity that the lawyer knows or ought to know assists in or encourages any dishonesty, crime or fraud. 

[amended 04/2013]



[1]  A lawyer should be on guard against becoming the tool or dupe of an unscrupulous client, or of others, whether or not associated with the unscrupulous client.

[2]  A lawyer should be alert to and avoid unwittingly becoming involved with a client engaged in criminal activities such as mortgage fraud or money laundering. Vigilance is required because the means for these, and other criminal activities, may be transactions for which lawyers commonly provide services such as: establishing, purchasing or selling business entities; arranging financing for the purchase or sale or operation of business entities; arranging financing for the purchase or sale of business assets; and purchasing and selling real estate.

[3]  Before accepting a retainer, or during a retainer, if a lawyer has suspicions or doubts about whether he or she might be assisting a client in any dishonesty, crime or fraud, the lawyer should make reasonable inquiries to obtain information about the client and about the subject matter and objectives of the retainer. These should include making reasonable attempts to verify the legal or beneficial ownership of property and business entities and who has the control of business entities, and to clarify the nature and purpose of a complex or unusual transaction where the nature and purpose are not clear.

[3.1]  The lawyer should also make inquiries of a client who:

(a)     seeks the use of the lawyer’s trust account without requiring any substantial legal services from the lawyer in connection with the trust matter, or

(b)     promises unrealistic returns on their investment to third parties who have placed money in trust with the lawyer or have been invited to do so.

[3.2]  The lawyer should make a record of the results of these inquiries.

[4]  A bona fide test case is not necessarily precluded by this rule and, so long as no injury to a person or violence is involved, a lawyer may properly advise and represent a client who, in good faith and on reasonable grounds, desires to challenge or test a law and the test can most effectively be made by means of a technical breach giving rise to a test case. In all situations, the lawyer should ensure that the client appreciates the consequences of bringing a test case.


Dishonesty, fraud when client an organization

3.2-8  A lawyer who is employed or retained by an organization to act in a matter in which the lawyer knows or ought to know that the organization has acted, is acting or intends to act dishonestly, criminally or fraudulently, must do the following, in addition to his or her obligations under rule 3.2-7: 

(a)     advise the person from whom the lawyer takes instructions and the chief legal officer, or both the chief legal officer and the chief executive officer, that the proposed conduct is, was or would be dishonest, criminal or fraudulent and should be stopped;

(b)     if necessary because the person from whom the lawyer takes instructions, the chief legal officer or the chief executive officer refuses to cause the proposed conduct to be stopped, advise progressively the next highest persons or groups, including ultimately, the board of directors, the board of trustees, or the appropriate committee of the board, that the proposed conduct was, is or would be dishonest, criminal or fraudulent and should be stopped; and

(c)     if the organization, despite the lawyer’s advice, continues with or intends to pursue the proposed wrongful conduct, withdraw from acting in the matter in accordance with section 3.7.



[1]  The past, present, or proposed misconduct of an organization may have harmful and serious consequences, not only for the organization and its constituency, but also for the public who rely on organizations to provide a variety of goods and services. In particular, the misconduct of publicly traded commercial and financial corporations may have serious consequences for the public at large. This rule addresses some of the professional responsibilities of a lawyer acting for an organization, including a corporation, when he or she learns that the organization has acted, is acting, or proposes to act in a way that is dishonest, criminal or fraudulent. In addition to these rules, the lawyer may need to consider, for example, the rules and commentary about confidentiality (section 3.3).

[2]  This rule speaks of conduct that is dishonest, criminal or fraudulent.

[3]  Such conduct includes acts of omission. Indeed, often it is the omissions of an organization, such as failing to make required disclosure or to correct inaccurate disclosures that constitute the wrongful conduct to which these rules relate. Conduct likely to result in substantial harm to the organization, as opposed to genuinely trivial misconduct by an organization, invokes these rules.

[4]  In considering his or her responsibilities under this section, a lawyer should consider whether it is feasible and appropriate to give any advice in writing.

[5]  A lawyer acting for an organization who learns that the organization has acted, is acting, or intends to act in a wrongful manner, may advise the chief executive officer and must advise the chief legal officer of the misconduct. If the wrongful conduct is not abandoned or stopped, the lawyer must report the matter “up the ladder” of responsibility within the organization until the matter is dealt with appropriately. If the organization, despite the lawyer’s advice, continues with the wrongful conduct, the lawyer must withdraw from acting in the particular matter in accordance with rule 3.7-1. In some but not all cases, withdrawal means resigning from his or her position or relationship with the organization and not simply withdrawing from acting in the particular matter.

[6]  This rule recognizes that lawyers as the legal advisers to organizations are in a central position to encourage organizations to comply with the law and to advise that it is in the organization’s and the public’s interest that organizations do not violate the law. Lawyers acting for organizations are often in a position to advise the executive officers of the organization, not only about the technicalities of the law, but also about the public relations and public policy concerns that motivated the government or regulator to enact the law. Moreover, lawyers for organizations, particularly in-house counsel, may guide organizations to act in ways that are legal, ethical, reputable and consistent with the organization’s responsibilities to its constituents and to the public.

Clients with diminished capacity

3.2-9  When a client’s ability to make decisions is impaired because of minority or mental disability, or for some other reason, the lawyer must, as far as reasonably possible, maintain a normal lawyer and client relationship.



[1]  A lawyer and client relationship presupposes that the client has the requisite mental ability to make decisions about his or her legal affairs and to give the lawyer instructions. A client’s ability to make decisions depends on such factors as age, intelligence, experience and mental and physical health and on the advice, guidance and support of others. A client’s ability to make decisions may change, for better or worse, over time. A client may be mentally capable of making some decisions but not others. The key is whether the client has the ability to understand the information relative to the decision that has to be made and is able to appreciate the reasonably foreseeable consequences of the decision or lack of decision. Accordingly, when a client is, or comes to be, under a disability that impairs his or her ability to make decisions, the lawyer will have to assess whether the impairment is minor or whether it prevents the client from giving instructions or entering into binding legal relationships.

[2]  A lawyer who believes a person to be incapable of giving instructions should decline to act. However, if a lawyer reasonably believes that the person has no other agent or representative and a failure to act could result in imminent and irreparable harm, the lawyer may take action on behalf of the person lacking capacity only to the extent necessary to protect the person until a legal representative can be appointed. A lawyer undertaking to so act has the same duties under these rules to the person lacking capacity as the lawyer would with any client.

[3]  If a client’s incapacity is discovered or arises after the solicitor-client relationship is established, the lawyer may need to take steps to have a lawfully authorized representative, such as a litigation guardian, appointed or to obtain the assistance of the Office of the Public Trustee to protect the interests of the client. Whether that should be done depends on all relevant circumstances, including the importance and urgency of any matter requiring instruction. In any event, the lawyer has an ethical obligation to ensure that the client’s interests are not abandoned. Until the appointment of a legal representative occurs, the lawyer should act to preserve and protect the client’s interests.

[4]  In some circumstances when there is a legal representative, the lawyer may disagree with the legal representative’s assessment of what is in the best interests of the client under a disability.  So long as there is no lack of good faith or authority, the judgment of the legal representative should prevail. If a lawyer becomes aware of conduct or intended conduct of the legal representative that is clearly in bad faith or outside that person’s authority, and contrary to the best interests of the client with diminished capacity, the lawyer may act to protect those interests.  This may require reporting the misconduct to a person or institution such as a family member or the Public Trustee.

[5]  When a lawyer takes protective action on behalf of a person or client lacking in capacity, the authority to disclose necessary confidential information may be implied in some circumstances: See Commentary under rule 3.3-1 (Confidentiality) for a discussion of the relevant factors. If the court or other counsel becomes involved, the lawyer should inform them of the nature of the lawyer’s relationship with the person lacking capacity.


Restricting future representation

3.2-10  A lawyer must not participate in offering or making an agreement in which a restriction on any lawyer’s right to practise is part of the settlement of a client lawsuit or other controversy.

3.3  Confidentiality
Confidential information

3.3-1  A lawyer at all times must hold in strict confidence all information concerning the business and affairs of a client acquired in the course of the professional relationship and must not divulge any such information unless:

(a)     expressly or impliedly authorized by the client;

(b)     required by law or a court to do so;

(c)     required to deliver the information to the Law Society, or

(d)     otherwise permitted by this rule.



[1]  A lawyer cannot render effective professional service to a client unless there is full and unreserved communication between them. At the same time, the client must feel completely secure and entitled to proceed on the basis that, without any express request or stipulation on the client’s part, matters disclosed to or discussed with the lawyer will be held in strict confidence.

[2]  This rule must be distinguished from the evidentiary rule of lawyer and client privilege, which is also a constitutionally protected right, concerning oral or documentary communications passing between the client and the lawyer. The ethical rule is wider and applies without regard to the nature or source of the information or the fact that others may share the knowledge.

[3]  A lawyer owes the duty of confidentiality to every client without exception and whether or not the client is a continuing or casual client. The duty survives the professional relationship and continues indefinitely after the lawyer has ceased to act for the client, whether or not differences have arisen between them.

[4]  A lawyer also owes a duty of confidentiality to anyone seeking advice or assistance on a matter invoking a lawyer’s professional knowledge, although the lawyer may not render an account or agree to represent that person. A solicitor and client relationship is often established without formality. A lawyer should be cautious in accepting confidential information on an informal or preliminary basis, since possession of the information may prevent the lawyer from subsequently acting for another party in the same or a related matter. (See rule 3.4-1 Conflicts.)

[5]  Generally, unless the nature of the matter requires such disclosure, a lawyer should not disclose having been:

(a)     retained by a person about a particular matter; or

(b)     consulted by a person about a particular matter, whether or not the lawyer-client relationship has been established between them.

[6]  A lawyer should take care to avoid disclosure to one client of confidential information concerning or received from another client and should decline employment that might require such disclosure.

[7]  Sole practitioners who practise in association with other lawyers in cost-sharing, space-sharing or other arrangements should be mindful of the risk of advertent or inadvertent disclosure of confidential information, even if the lawyers institute systems and procedures that are designed to insulate their respective practices. The issue may be heightened if a lawyer in the association represents a client on the other side of a dispute with the client of another lawyer in the association. Apart from conflict of interest issues such a situation may raise, the risk of such disclosure may depend on the extent to which the lawyers’ practices are integrated, physically and administratively, in the association.

[8]  A lawyer should avoid indiscreet conversations and other communications, even with the lawyer’s spouse or family, about a client’s affairs and should shun any gossip about such things even though the client is not named or otherwise identified. Similarly, a lawyer should not repeat any gossip or information about the client’s business or affairs that is overheard or recounted to the lawyer. Apart altogether from ethical considerations or questions of good taste, indiscreet shoptalk among lawyers, if overheard by third parties able to identify the matter being discussed, could result in prejudice to the client. Moreover, the respect of the listener for lawyers and the legal profession will probably be lessened. Although the rule may not apply to facts that are public knowledge, a lawyer should guard against participating in or commenting on speculation concerning clients’ affairs or business.

[9]  In some situations, the authority of the client to disclose may be inferred. For example, in court proceedings some disclosure may be necessary in a pleading or other court document. Also, it is implied that a lawyer may, unless the client directs otherwise, disclose the client’s affairs to partners and associates in the law firm and, to the extent necessary, to administrative staff and to others whose services are used by the lawyer. But this implied authority to disclose places the lawyer under a duty to impress upon associates, employees, students and other lawyers engaged under contract with the lawyer or with the firm of the lawyer the importance of non-disclosure (both during their employment and afterwards) and requires the lawyer to take reasonable care to prevent their disclosing or using any information that the lawyer is bound to keep in confidence.

[10]  The client’s authority for the lawyer to disclose confidential information to the extent necessary to protect the client’s interest may also be inferred in some situations where the lawyer is taking action on behalf of the person lacking capacity to protect the person until a legal representative can be appointed. In determining whether a lawyer may disclose such information, the lawyer should consider all circumstances, including the reasonableness of the lawyer’s belief the person lacks capacity, the potential harm that may come to the client if no action is taken, and any instructions the client may have given the lawyer when capable of giving instructions about the authority to disclose information. Similar considerations apply to confidential information given to the lawyer by a person who lacks the capacity to become a client but nevertheless requires protection.

[11]  A lawyer may have an obligation to disclose information under rules 5.5-2, 5.5-3 and 5.6-3. If client information is involved in those situations, the lawyer should be guided by the provisions of this rule.


Use of confidential information

3.3-2  A lawyer must not use or disclose a client’s or former client’s confidential information to the disadvantage of the client or former client, or for the benefit of the lawyer or a third person without the consent of the client or former client. 



[1]  The fiduciary relationship between a lawyer and a client forbids the lawyer or a third person from benefiting from the lawyer’s use of a client’s confidential information. If a lawyer engages in literary works, such as a memoir or autobiography, the lawyer is required to obtain the client’s or former client’s consent before disclosing confidential information.


Lawyers’ obligation to claim privilege when faced with requirement to surrender document

3.3-2.1  A lawyer who is required, under federal or provincial legislation, to produce a document or provide information that is or may be privileged must, unless the client waives the privilege, claim solicitor-client privilege in respect of the document. 



[1]  A lawyer who is required by law or by order of a court to disclose a client’s affairs must not disclose more information than is necessary.


Future harm / public safety exception

3.3-3  A lawyer may disclose confidential information, but must not disclose more information than is required, when the lawyer believes on reasonable grounds that there is an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm, and disclosure is necessary to prevent the death or harm.



[1]  Confidentiality and loyalty are fundamental to the relationship between a lawyer and a client because legal advice cannot be given and justice cannot be done unless clients have a large measure of freedom to discuss their affairs with their lawyers. However, in some very exceptional situations identified in this rule, disclosure without the client’s permission might be warranted because the lawyer is satisfied that truly serious harm of the types identified is imminent and cannot otherwise be prevented. These situations will be extremely rare.

[2]  The Supreme Court of Canada has considered the meaning of the words “serious bodily harm” in certain contexts, which may inform a lawyer in assessing whether disclosure of confidential information is warranted. In Smith v. Jones, [1999] 1 SCR 455 at paragraph 83, the Court also observed that serious psychological harm may constitute serious bodily harm if it substantially interferes with the health or well-being of the individual.

[3]  In assessing whether disclosure of confidential information is justified, a lawyer should consider a number of factors, including:

(a)     the seriousness of the potential injury to others if the prospective harm occurs;

(b)     the likelihood that it will occur and its imminence;

(c)     the apparent absence of any other feasible way to prevent the potential injury; and

(d)     the circumstances under which the lawyer acquired the information of the client’s intent or prospective course of action.

[4]  How and when disclosure should be made under this rule will depend upon the circumstances. A lawyer who believes that disclosure may be warranted should contact the Law Society for ethical advice. When practicable and permitted, a judicial order may be sought for disclosure.

[5]  If confidential information is disclosed under this rule, the lawyer should prepare a written note as soon as possible, which should include:

(a)     the date and time of the communication;

(b)     the grounds in support of the lawyer’s decision to communicate the information, including the harm he or she intended to prevent, the identity of the person who prompted him to communicate the information as well as the identity of the person or group of persons exposed to the harm; and

(c)     the content of the communication, the method of communication used and the identity of the person to whom the communication was made. 

If it is alleged that a lawyer or the lawyer’s associates or employees:

(a)     have committed a criminal offence involving a client’s affairs;

(b)     are civilly liable with respect to a matter involving a client’s affairs;

(c)     have committed acts of professional negligence; or

(d)     have engaged in acts of professional misconduct or conduct unbecoming a lawyer,

the lawyer may disclose confidential information in order to defend against the allegations, but must not disclose more information than is required.

3.3-5  A lawyer may disclose confidential information in order to establish or collect the lawyer’s fees, but must not disclose more information than is required.

3.3-6  A lawyer may disclose confidential information to another lawyer to secure legal or ethical advice about the lawyer’s proposed conduct.

3.4  Conflicts
Duty to avoid conflicts of interest

3.4-1  A lawyer must not act or continue to act for a client where there is a conflict of interest, except as permitted under this Code.  



[0.1]  In a real property transaction, a lawyer may act for more than one party with different interests only in the circumstances permitted by Appendix C.

[1]  As defined in these rules, a conflict of interest exists when there is a substantial risk that a lawyer’s loyalty to or representation of a client would be materially and adversely affected by the lawyer’s own interest or the lawyer’s duties to another client, a former client, or a third person. The risk must be more than a mere possibility; there must be a genuine, serious risk to the duty of loyalty or to client representation arising from the retainer. A client’s interests may be seriously prejudiced unless the lawyer’s judgment and freedom of action on the client’s behalf are as free as possible from conflicts of interest.

[2]  A lawyer should examine whether a conflict of interest exists not only from the outset but throughout the duration of a retainer because new circumstances or information may establish or reveal a conflict of interest.

[3]  The general prohibition and permitted activity prescribed by this rule apply to a lawyer’s duties to current, former, concurrent and joint clients as well as to the lawyer’s own interests.


[4]  Representation means acting for a client and includes the lawyer’s advice to and judgment on behalf of the client.

The fiduciary relationship, the duty of loyalty and conflicting interests

[5]  The value of an independent bar is diminished unless the lawyer is free from conflicts of interest. 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 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 not to act in a conflict of interest. This obligation is premised on an established or ongoing lawyer client relationship in which the client must be assured of the lawyer’s undivided loyalty, free from any material impairment of the lawyer and client relationship.

[6]  The rule reflects the principle articulated by the Supreme Court of Canada in the cases of R. v. Neil 2002 SCC 70 and Strother v, 3464920 Canada Inc. 2007 SCC 24, regarding conflicting interests involving current clients, that a lawyer must not represent one client whose legal interests are directly adverse to the immediate legal interests of another client without consent. This duty arises even if the matters are unrelated. The lawyer client relationship may be irreparably damaged where the lawyer’s representation of one client is directly adverse to another client’s immediate interests. One client may legitimately fear that the lawyer will not pursue the representation out of deference to the other client, and an existing client may legitimately feel betrayed by the lawyer’s representation of a client with adverse legal interests. The prohibition on acting in such circumstances except with the consent of the clients guards against such outcomes and protects the lawyer client relationship.

[7]  Accordingly, factors for the lawyer’s consideration in determining whether a conflict of interest exists include:

  • the immediacy of the legal interests;
  • whether the legal interests are directly adverse;
  • whether the issue is substantive or procedural;
  • the temporal relationship between the matters;
  • the significance of the issue to the immediate and long-term interests of the clients involved; and
  • the clients’ reasonable expectations in retaining the lawyer for the particular matter or representation.

Examples of areas where conflicts of interest may occur

[8]  Conflicts of interest can arise in many different circumstances. The following examples are intended to provide illustrations of circumstances that may give rise to conflicts of interest. The examples are not exhaustive.

(a)     A lawyer acts as an advocate in one matter against a person when the lawyer represents that person on some other matter.

(c)     A lawyer provides legal advice to a small business on a series of commercial transactions and at the same time provides legal advice to an employee of the business on an employment matter, thereby acting for clients whose legal interests are directly adverse.

(d)     A lawyer, an associate, a law partner or a family member has a personal financial interest in a client’s affairs or in a matter in which the lawyer is requested to act for a client, such as a partnership interest in some joint business venture with a client.

(i)         A lawyer owning a small number of shares of a publicly traded corporation would not necessarily have a conflict of interest in acting for the corporation because the holding may have no adverse influence on the lawyer’s judgment or loyalty to the client.

(e)     A lawyer has a sexual or close personal relationship with a client.

(i)         Such a relationship may conflict with the lawyer’s duty to provide objective, disinterested professional advice to the client. The relationship may obscure whether certain information was acquired in the course of the lawyer and client relationship and may jeopardize the client’s right to have all information concerning his or her affairs held in strict confidence. The relationship may in some circumstances permit exploitation of the client by his or her lawyer. If the lawyer is a member of a firm and concludes that a conflict exists, the conflict is not imputed to the lawyer’s firm, but would be cured if another lawyer in the firm who is not involved in such a relationship with the client handled the client’s work.

(f)      A lawyer or his or her law firm acts for a public or private corporation and the lawyer serves as a director of the corporation.

(i)         These two roles may result in a conflict of interest or other problems because they may

1.     affect the lawyer’s independent judgment and fiduciary obligations in either or both roles,

2.     obscure legal advice from business and practical advice,

3.     jeopardize the protection of lawyer and client privilege, and

4.     disqualify the lawyer or the law firm from acting for the organization.

(g)     Sole practitioners who practise with other lawyers in cost-sharing or other arrangements represent clients on opposite sides of a dispute. See rules 3.4-42 and 3.4-43 on space-sharing arrangements.

(i)         The fact or the appearance of such a conflict may depend on the extent to which the lawyers’ practices are integrated, physically and administratively, in the association. 



3.4-2  A lawyer must not represent a client in a matter when there is a conflict of interest unless there is express or implied consent from all clients and the lawyer reasonably believes that he or she is able to represent each client without having a material adverse effect upon the representation of or loyalty to the other client.

(a)     Express consent must be fully informed and voluntary after disclosure.

(b)     Consent may be inferred and need not be in writing where all of the following apply:

(i)         the client is a government, financial institution, publicly traded or similarly substantial entity, or an entity with in-house counsel;

(ii)        the matters are unrelated;

(iii)       the lawyer has no relevant confidential information from one client that might reasonably affect the other; and

(iv)       the client has commonly consented to lawyers acting for and against it in unrelated matters.



Disclosure and consent

[1]  Disclosure is an essential requirement to obtaining a client’s consent. Where it is not possible to provide the client with adequate disclosure because of the confidentiality of the information of another client, the lawyer must decline to act.

[2]  The lawyer should inform the client of the relevant circumstances and the reasonably foreseeable ways that the conflict of interest could adversely affect the client’s interests. This would include the lawyer’s relations to the parties and any interest in or connection with the matter.

[3]  Following the required disclosure, the client can decide whether to give consent. As important as it is to the client that the lawyer’s judgment and freedom of action on the client’s behalf not be subject to other interests, duties or obligations, in practice this factor may not always be decisive. Instead, it may be only one of several factors that the client will weigh when deciding whether or not to give the consent referred to in the rule. Other factors might include, for example, the availability of another lawyer of comparable expertise and experience, the stage that the matter or proceeding has reached, the extra cost, delay and inconvenience involved in engaging another lawyer, and the latter’s unfamiliarity with the client and the client’s affairs.

Consent in advance

[4]  A lawyer may be able to request that a client consent in advance to conflicts that might arise in the future. As the effectiveness of such consent is generally determined by the extent to which the client reasonably understands the material risks that the consent entails, the more comprehensive the explanation of the types of future representations that might arise and the actual and reasonably foreseeable adverse consequences of those representations, the greater the likelihood that the client will have the requisite understanding. A general, open-ended consent will ordinarily be ineffective because it is not reasonably likely that the client will have understood the material risks involved. If the client is an experienced user of the legal services involved and is reasonably informed regarding the risk that a conflict may arise, such consent is more likely to be effective, particularly if, for example, the client is independently represented by other counsel in giving consent and the consent is limited to future conflicts unrelated to the subject of the representation.

[5]  While not a pre-requisite to advance consent, in some circumstances it may be advisable to recommend that the client obtain independent legal advice before deciding whether to provide consent. Advance consent must be recorded, for example in a retainer letter.

Implied consent

[6]  In some cases consent may be implied, rather than expressly granted. As the Supreme Court held in Neil and in Strother, however, the concept of implied consent is applicable in exceptional cases only. Governments, chartered banks and entities that might be considered sophisticated consumers of legal services may accept that lawyers may act against them in unrelated matters where there is no danger of misuse of confidential information. The more sophisticated the client is as a consumer of legal services, the more likely it will be that an inference of consent can be drawn. The mere nature of the client is not, however, a sufficient basis upon which to assume implied consent; the matters must be unrelated, the lawyer must not possess confidential information from one client that could affect the other client, and there must be a reasonable basis upon which to conclude that the client has commonly accepted that lawyers may act against it in such circumstances.

Lawyer belief in reasonableness of representation

[7]  The requirement that the lawyer reasonably believe that he or she is able to represent each client without having a material adverse effect on the representation of, or loyalty to, the other client precludes a lawyer from acting for parties to a transaction who have different interests, except where joint representation is permitted under this Code.



3.4-3  Despite rule 3.4-2, a lawyer must not represent opposing parties in a dispute.



[1]  A lawyer representing a client who is a party in a dispute with another party or parties must competently and diligently develop and argue the position of the client. In a dispute, the parties’ immediate legal interests are clearly adverse. If the lawyer were permitted to act for opposing parties in such circumstances even with consent, the lawyer’s advice, judgment and loyalty to one client would be materially and adversely affected by the same duties to the other client or clients. In short, the lawyer would find it impossible to act without offending these rules.

Concurrent representation with protection of confidential client information

3.4-4  Where there is no dispute among the clients about the matter that is the subject of the proposed representation, two or more lawyers in a law firm may act for current clients with competing interests and may treat information received from each client as confidential and not disclose it to the other clients, provided that:

(a)     disclosure of the risks of the lawyers so acting has been made to each client;

(b)     each client consents after having received independent legal advice, including on the risks of concurrent representation;

(c)     the clients each determine that it is in their best interests that the lawyers so act;

(d)     each client is represented by a different lawyer in the firm;

(e)     appropriate screening mechanisms are in place to protect confidential information; and

(f)      all lawyers in the law firm withdraw from the representation of all clients in respect of the matter if a dispute that cannot be resolved develops among the clients.



[1]  This rule provides guidance on concurrent representation, which is permitted in limited circumstances. Concurrent representation is not contrary to the rule prohibiting representation where there is a conflict of interest provided that the clients are fully informed of the risks and understand that if a dispute arises among the clients that cannot be resolved the lawyers may have to withdraw, resulting in potential additional costs.

[2]  An example is a law firm acting for a number of sophisticated clients in a matter such as competing bids in a corporate acquisition in which, although the clients’ interests are divergent and may conflict, the clients are not in a dispute. Provided that each client is represented by a different lawyer in the firm and there is no real risk that the firm will not be able to properly represent the legal interests of each client, the firm may represent both even though the subject matter of the retainers is the same. Whether or not a risk of impairment of representation exists is a question of fact.

[3]  The basis for the advice described in the rule from both the lawyers involved in the concurrent representation and those giving the required independent legal advice is whether concurrent representation is in the best interests of the clients. Even where all clients consent, the lawyers should not accept a concurrent retainer if the matter is one in which one of the clients is less sophisticated or more vulnerable than the other.

[4]  In cases of concurrent representation lawyers should employ, as applicable, the reasonable screening measures to ensure non-disclosure of confidential information within the firm set out in the rule on conflicts from transfer between law firms (see rule 3.4-26).

Joint retainers

3.4-5  Before a lawyer is retained by more than one client in a matter or transaction, the lawyer must advise each of the clients that:

(a)     the lawyer has been asked to act for both or all of them;

(b)     no information received in connection with the matter from one client can be treated as confidential so far as any of the others are concerned; and

(c)     if a conflict develops that cannot be resolved, the lawyer cannot continue to act for both or all of them and may have to withdraw completely.



[1]  Although this rule does not require that a lawyer advise clients to obtain independent legal advice before the lawyer may accept a joint retainer, in some cases, the lawyer should recommend such advice to ensure that the clients’ consent to the joint retainer is informed, genuine and uncoerced. This is especially so when one of the clients is less sophisticated or more vulnerable than the other. The Law Society website contains two precedent letters that lawyers may use as the basis for compliance with rule 3.4-5.

[2]  A lawyer who receives instructions from spouses or partners to prepare one or more wills for them based on their shared understanding of what is to be in each will should treat the matter as a joint retainer and comply with rule 3.4-5. Further, at the outset of this joint retainer, the lawyer should advise the spouses or partners that, if subsequently only one of them were to communicate new instructions, such as instructions to change or revoke a will:

(a)     the subsequent communication would be treated as a request for a new retainer and not as part of the joint retainer;

(b)     in accordance with rule 3.3-1, the lawyer would be obliged to hold the subsequent communication in strict confidence and not disclose it to the other spouse or partner; and

(c)     the lawyer would have a duty to decline the new retainer, unless:

(i)         the spouses or partners had annulled their marriage, divorced, permanently ended their conjugal relationship or permanently ended their close personal relationship, as the case may be;

(ii)        the other spouse or partner had died; or

(iii)       the other spouse or partner was informed of the subsequent communication and agreed to the lawyer acting on the new instructions.

[3]  After advising the spouses or partners in the manner described above, the lawyer should obtain their consent to act in accordance with rule 3.4-7.


3.4-6  If a lawyer has a continuing relationship with a client for whom the lawyer acts regularly, before the lawyer accepts a joint retainer from that client and another client, the lawyer must advise the other client of the continuing relationship and recommend that the client obtain independent legal advice about the joint retainer.


3.4-7  When a lawyer has advised the clients as provided under rules 3.4-5 and 3.4-6 and the parties are content that the lawyer act, the lawyer must obtain their consent.



[1]  Consent in writing, or a record of the consent in a separate letter to each client is required. Even if all the parties concerned consent, a lawyer should avoid acting for more than one client when it is likely that an issue contentious between them will arise or their interests, rights or obligations will diverge as the matter progresses.


3.4-8  Except as provided by rule 3.4-9, if a contentious issue arises between clients who have consented to a joint retainer,

(a)     the lawyer must not advise them on the contentious issue and must:

(i)         refer the clients to other lawyers; or

(ii)        advise the clients of their option to settle the contentious issue by direct negotiation  in which the lawyer does not participate, provided:

1.         no legal advice is required; and

2.         the clients are sophisticated;

(b)     if the contentious issue is not resolved, the lawyer must withdraw from the joint representation.



[1]  This rule does not prevent a lawyer from arbitrating or settling, or attempting to arbitrate or settle, a dispute between two or more clients or former clients who are not under any legal disability and who wish to submit the dispute to the lawyer.

[2]  If, after the clients have consented to a joint retainer, an issue contentious between them or some of them arises, the lawyer is not necessarily precluded from advising them on non-contentious matters.


3.4-9  Subject to this section, if clients consent to a joint retainer and also agree that, if a contentious issue arises, the lawyer may continue to advise one of them, the lawyer may advise that client about the contentious matter and must refer the other or others to another lawyer.



[1]  This rule does not relieve the lawyer of the obligation, when the contentious issue arises, to obtain the consent of the clients if there is or is likely to be a conflicting interest, or if the representation on the contentious issue requires the lawyer to act against one of the clients.

[2]  When entering into a joint retainer, the lawyer should stipulate that, if a contentious issue develops, the lawyer will be compelled to cease acting altogether unless, at the time the contentious issue develops, all parties consent to the lawyer’s continuing to represent one of them. Consent given before the fact may be ineffective since the party granting the consent will not at that time be in possession of all relevant information.


Acting against former clients

3.4-10  Unless the former client consents, a lawyer must not act against a former client in:

(a)     the same matter,

(b)     any related matter, or

(c)     any other matter, if the lawyer has relevant confidential information arising from the representation of the former client that may reasonably affect the former client.



[1]  This rule prohibits a lawyer from attacking legal work done during the retainer, or from undermining the client’s position on a matter that was central to the retainer. It is not improper, however, for a lawyer to act against a former client in a matter wholly unrelated to any work the lawyer has previously done for that person if previously obtained confidential information is irrelevant to that matter.


3.4-11  When a lawyer has acted for a former client and obtained confidential information relevant to a new matter, another lawyer in the lawyer’s firm may act against the former client in the new matter, if the firm establishes, in accordance with rule 3.4-20, that it is reasonable that it act in the new matter, having regard to all relevant circumstances, including:

(a)     the adequacy and timing of the measures taken to ensure that no disclosure of the former client’s confidential information to the partner or associate having carriage of the new matter will occur;

(b)     the extent of prejudice to any party; and

(c)     the good faith of the parties.



[1]  The guidelines at the end of Appendix D regarding lawyer transfers between firms provide valuable guidance for the protection of confidential information in the rare cases in which, having regard to all of the relevant circumstances, it is appropriate for the lawyer’s partner or associate to act against the former client.

Short-term summary legal services

3.4-11.1  In rules 3.4-11.2 to 3.4-11.4 “short-term summary legal services” means advice or representation to a client under the auspices of a pro bono or not-for-profit legal services provider with the expectation by the lawyer and the client that the lawyer will not provide continuing legal services in the matter.

[amended 06/2016]

3.4-11.2  A lawyer may provide short-term summary legal services without taking steps to determine whether there is a conflict of interest.

[amended 06/2016] 

3.4-11.3  Except with consent of the clients as provided in rule 3.4-2, a lawyer must not provide, or must cease providing short-term summary legal services to a client where the lawyer knows or becomes aware that there is a conflict of interest. 

[amended 06/2016]

3.4-11.4  A lawyer who provides short-term summary legal services must take reasonable measures to ensure that no disclosure of the client's confidential information is made to another lawyer in the lawyer’s firm.

[amended 06/2016]  



[1]  Short-term summary legal service and duty counsel programs are usually offered in circumstances in which it may be difficult to systematically screen for conflicts of interest in a timely way, despite the best efforts and existing practices and procedures of the not-for-profit legal services provider and the lawyers and law firms who provide these services. Performing a full conflicts screening in circumstances in which the short-term summary services described in these rules are being offered can be very challenging given the timelines, volume and logistics of the setting in which the services are provided.

[2]  The limited nature of short-term summary legal services significantly reduces the risk of conflicts of interest with other matters being handled by the lawyer’s firm. Accordingly, the lawyer is disqualified from acting for a client receiving short-term summary legal services only if the lawyer has actual knowledge of a conflict of interest between the client receiving short-term summary legal services and an existing client of the lawyer or an existing client of the pro bono or not-for-profit legal services provider or between the lawyer and the client receiving short-term summary legal services.

[3]  Confidential information obtained by a lawyer providing the services described in rules 3.4-11.1 to 3.4-11.4 will not be imputed to the lawyers in the lawyer’s firm or to non-lawyer partners or associates in a multi-discipline partnership. As such, these individuals may continue to act for another client adverse in interest to the client who is obtaining or has obtained short-term summary legal services, and may act in future for another client adverse in interest to the client who is obtaining or has obtained short-term summary legal services.

[4]  In the provision of short-term summary legal services, the lawyer’s knowledge about possible conflicts of interest is based on the lawyer’s reasonable recollection and information provided by the client in the ordinary course of consulting with the pro bono or not-for-profit legal services provider to receive its services.

[[1] to [4] added 06/2016; [2] amended 09/2016]


Conflicts from transfer between law firms
Application of rule

3.4-17  In rules 3.4-17 to 3.4-26:

“confidential information” means information that is not generally known to the public obtained from a client; and

“matter” means a case or client file, but does not include general “know-how” and, in the case of a government lawyer, does not include policy advice unless the advice relates to a particular case.



[2]  Rules 3.4-17 to 3.4-26 apply to lawyers sharing space. Treating space-sharing lawyers as a law firm recognizes

(a)     the concern that opposing clients may have about the appearance of proximity of lawyers sharing space, and

(b)     the risk that lawyers sharing space may be exposed inadvertently to confidential information of an opposing client.

[3]  Rules 3.4-17 to 3.4-26 apply to lawyers transferring to or from government service and into or out of an in-house counsel position, but do not extend to purely internal transfers in which, after transfer, the employer remains the same.

[4]  Rules 3.4-17 to 3.4-26 treat as one “law firm” such entities as the various legal services units of a government, a corporation with separate regional legal departments, an inter-provincial law firm and a legal aid program with many community law offices. The more autonomous that each such unit or office is, the easier it should be, in the event of a conflict, for the new firm to obtain the former client’s consent.

[5]  See the definition of “MDP” in Rule 1 and Rules 2-38 to 2-49 of the Law Society Rules.

[[5] updated 07/2015]


3.4-18  Rules 3.4-17 to 3.4-26 apply when a lawyer transfers from one law firm (“former law firm”) to another (“new law firm”), and either the transferring lawyer or the new law firm is aware at the time of the transfer or later discovers that:

(a)     the new law firm represents a client in a matter that is the same as or related to a matter in which the former law firm represents its client (“former client”);

(b)     the interests of those clients in that matter conflict; and

(c)     the transferring lawyer actually possesses relevant information respecting that matter.


3.4-19  Rules 3.4-20 to 3.4-24 do not apply to a lawyer employed by a federal, provincial or territorial government who continues to be employed by that government after transferring from one department, ministry or agency to another.


Law firm disqualification

3.4-20  If the transferring lawyer actually possesses confidential information relevant to a matter referred to in rule 3.4-18 (a) respecting the former client that may prejudice the former client if disclosed to a member of the new law firm, the new law firm must cease its representation of its client in that matter unless:

(a)     the former client consents to the new law firm’s continued representation of its client; or

(b)     the new law firm can establish, in accordance with rule 3.4-25, when called upon to do so by a party adverse in interest, that

(i)         it is reasonable that its representation of its client in the matter continue, having regard to all relevant circumstances, including:

(A)   the adequacy and timing of the measures taken under clause (ii);

(B)    the extent of prejudice to the affected clients; and 

(C)    the good faith of the former client and the client of the new law firm; and

(ii)        it has taken reasonable measures to ensure that there will be no disclosure of the former client’s confidential information by the transferring lawyer to any member of the new law firm.



[2]  Appendix D may be helpful in determining what constitutes “reasonable measures” in this context.

[3]  Issues arising as a result of a transfer between law firms should be dealt with promptly. A lawyer’s failure to promptly raise any issues identified may prejudice clients and may be considered sharp practice.


Continued representation not to involve transferring lawyer

3.4-22  If the transferring lawyer actually possesses information relevant to a matter referred to in rule 3.4-18 (a) respecting the former client, but that information is not confidential information that may prejudice the former client if disclosed to a member of the new law firm, the new law firm must notify its client of the relevant circumstances and its intended action under rules 3.4-17 to 3.4-26.


3. 4-23  Unless the former client consents, a transferring lawyer to whom rule 3.4-20 or 3.4-22 applies must not:

(a)     participate in any manner in the new law firm’s representation of its client in that matter; or

(b)     disclose any confidential information respecting the former client.


3.4-24  Unless the former client consents, members of the new law firm must not discuss the new law firm’s representation of its client or the former law firm’s representation of the former client in that matter with a transferring lawyer to whom rule 3.4-20 or 3.4-22 applies.


Determination of compliance

3.4-25  Notwithstanding remedies available at law, a lawyer who represents a party in a matter referred to in rules 3.4-6 or 3.4-17 to 3.4-26 may seek the opinion of the Society on the application of those rules.


Due diligence

3.4-26  A lawyer must exercise due diligence in ensuring that each member and employee of the lawyer’s law firm, and each other person whose services the lawyer has retained

(a)     complies with rules 3.4-17 to 3.4-26, and

(b)     does not disclose confidences of clients of

(i)         the firm, and

(ii)        another law firm in which the person has worked.


Conflicts with clients

3.4-26.1  A lawyer must not perform any legal services if there is a substantial risk that a lawyer's loyalty to or representation of a client would be materially and adversely affected by the lawyer’s

(a)     relationship with the client, or

(b)     interest in the client or the subject matter of the legal services.

[amended 11/2013]



[1]  Any relationship or interest that affects a lawyer’s professional judgment is to be avoided under this rule, including ones involving a relative, partner, employer, employee, business associate or friend of the lawyer.


The remuneration paid to a lawyer by a client for the legal work undertaken by the lawyer for the client is not a disqualifying interest under rule 3.4-26.1.



[1]  Generally speaking, a lawyer may act as legal advisor or as business associate, but not both. These principles are not intended to preclude a lawyer from performing legal services on his or her own behalf. Lawyers should be aware, however, that acting in certain circumstances may cause them to be uninsured as a result of Exclusion 6 in the B.C. Lawyers Compulsory Professional Liability Insurance Policy and similar provisions in other insurance policies.

[2]  Whether or not insurance coverage under the Compulsory Policy is lost is determined separate and apart from the ethical obligations addressed in this chapter. Review the current policy for the exact wording of Exclusion 6 or contact the Lawyers Insurance Fund regarding the application of the Exclusion to a particular set of circumstances.


Doing business with a client
Independent legal advice

3.4-27  In rules 3.4-27 to 3.4-43, when a client is required or advised to obtain independent legal advice concerning a matter, that advice may only be obtained by retaining a lawyer who has no conflicting interest in the matter.

3.4-27.1  A lawyer giving independent legal advice under this section must:

(a)     advise the client that the client has the right to independent legal representation;

(b)     explain the legal aspects of the matter to the client, who appears to understand the advice given; and

(c)     inform the client of the availability of qualified advisers in other fields who would be in a position to advise the client on the matter from a business point of view.



[0.1]  A client is entitled to obtain independent legal representation by retaining a lawyer who has no conflicting interest in the matter to act for the client in relation to the matter.

[1]  If a client elects to waive independent legal representation and to rely on independent legal advice only, the lawyer retained has a responsibility that should not be lightly assumed or perfunctorily discharged.

[2]  Either independent legal representation or independent legal advice may be provided by a lawyer employed by the client as in-house counsel.


3.4-28  Subject to this rule, a lawyer must not enter into a transaction with a client unless the transaction is fair and reasonable to the client, the client consents to the transaction and the client has independent legal representation with respect to the transaction.



[1]  This provision applies to any transaction with a client, including:

(a)     lending or borrowing money;

(b)     buying or selling property;

(c)     accepting a gift, including a testamentary gift;

(d)     giving or acquiring ownership, security or other pecuniary interest in a company or other entity;

(e)     recommending an investment; and

(f)      entering into a common business venture.

[2]  The relationship between lawyer and client is a fiduciary one, and no conflict between the lawyer’s own interest and the lawyer’s duty to the client can be permitted. The remuneration paid to a lawyer by a client for the legal work undertaken by the lawyer for the client does not give rise to a conflicting interest.


Investment by client when lawyer has an interest

3.4-29  Subject to rule 3.4-30, if a client intends to enter into a transaction with his or her lawyer or with a corporation or other entity in which the lawyer has an interest other than a corporation or other entity whose securities are publicly traded, before accepting any retainer, the lawyer must

(a)     disclose and explain the nature of the conflicting interest to the client or, in the case of a potential conflict, how and why it might develop later;

(b)     recommend and require that the client receive independent legal advice; and

(c)     if the client requests the lawyer to act, obtain the client’s consent.



[1]  If the lawyer does not choose to disclose the conflicting interest or cannot do so without breaching confidence, the lawyer must decline the retainer.

[2]  A lawyer should not uncritically accept a client’s decision to have the lawyer act. It should be borne in mind that, if the lawyer accepts the retainer, the lawyer’s first duty will be to the client. If the lawyer has any misgivings about being able to place the client’s interests first, the retainer should be declined.

[3]  Generally, in disciplinary proceedings under this rule, the burden will rest upon the lawyer to show good faith, that adequate disclosure was made in the matter, and that the client’s consent was obtained

[4]  If the investment is by borrowing from the client, the transaction may fall within the requirements of rule 3.4-32.


3.4-30  When a client intends to pay for legal services by issuing or causing to be transferred to a lawyer a share, participation or other interest in property or in an enterprise, other than a non-material interest in a publicly traded enterprise, the lawyer must recommend but need not require that the client receive independent legal advice before accepting a retainer. 

Borrowing from clients

3.4-31 A lawyer must not borrow money from a client unless

(a)     the client is a lending institution, financial institution, insurance company, trust company or any similar corporation whose business includes lending money to members of the public, or

(b)     the client is a related person as defined by the Income Tax Act (Canada) and the lawyer is able to discharge the onus of proving that the client’s interests were fully protected by the nature of the matter and by independent legal advice or independent legal representation.



[1]  Whether a person is considered a client within this rule when lending money to a lawyer on that person’s own account or investing money in a security in which the lawyer has an interest is determined having regard to all circumstances. If the circumstances are such that the lender or investor might reasonably feel entitled to look to the lawyer for guidance and advice about the loan or investment, the lawyer is bound by the same fiduciary obligation that attaches to a lawyer in dealings with a client.

Certificate of independent legal advice

3.4-32  A lawyer retained to give independent legal advice relating to a transaction in which funds are to be advanced by the client to another lawyer must do the following before the client advances any funds:

(a)     provide the client with a written certificate that the client has received independent legal advice, and

(b)     obtain the client’s signature on a copy of the certificate of independent legal advice and send the signed copy to the lawyer with whom the client proposes to transact business.

3.4-33  Subject to rule 3.4-31, if a lawyer’s spouse or a corporation, syndicate or partnership in which either or both of the lawyer and the lawyer’s spouse has a direct or indirect substantial interest borrow money from a client, the lawyer must ensure that the client’s interests are fully protected by the nature of the case and by independent legal representation. 

Lawyers in loan or mortgage transactions

3.4-34  If a lawyer lends money to a client, before agreeing to make the loan, the lawyer must:

(a)     disclose and explain the nature of the conflicting interest to the client;

(b)     require that the client receive independent legal representation; and

(c)     obtain the client’s consent.

Guarantees by a lawyer

3.4-35  Except as provided by rule 3.4-36, a lawyer must not guarantee personally, or otherwise provide security for, any indebtedness in respect of which a client is a borrower or lender.

3.4-36  A lawyer may give a personal guarantee in the following circumstances:

(a)     the lender is a lending institution, financial institution, insurance company, trust company or any similar corporation whose business includes lending money to members of the public, and the lender is directly or indirectly providing funds solely for the lawyer, the lawyer’s spouse, parent or child;

(b)     the transaction is for the benefit of a non-profit or charitable institution, and the lawyer provides a guarantee as a member or supporter of such institution, either individually or together with other members or supporters of the institution; or

(c)     the lawyer has entered into a business venture with a client and a lender requires personal guarantees from all participants in the venture as a matter of course and:

(i)         the lawyer has complied with this section (Conflicts), in particular, rules 3.4-27 to 3.4-36 (Doing Business with a Client); and

(ii)        the lender and participants in the venture who are clients or former clients of the lawyer have independent legal representation.

Testamentary instruments and gifts

3.4-37  A lawyer must not include in a client’s will a clause directing the executor to retain the lawyer’s services in the administration of the client’s estate.

3.4-38  Unless the client is a family member of the lawyer or the lawyer’s partner or associate, a lawyer must not prepare or cause to be prepared an instrument giving the lawyer or an associate a gift or benefit from the client, including a testamentary gift.


3.4 39  A lawyer must not accept a gift that is more than nominal from a client unless the client has received independent legal advice.

Judicial interim release

3.4-40  A lawyer must not act as a surety for, deposit money or other valuable security for, or act in a supervisory capacity to an accused person for whom the lawyer acts.

3.4-41 A lawyer may act as a surety for, deposit money or other valuable security for or act in a supervisory capacity to an accused who is in a family relationship with the lawyer when the accused is represented by the lawyer’s partner or associate.

Space-sharing arrangements

3.4-42  Rule 3.4-43 applies to lawyers sharing office space with one or more other lawyers, but not practising or being held out to be practising in partnership or association with the other lawyer or lawyers.

3.4-43 Unless all lawyers sharing space together agree that they will not act for clients adverse in interest to the client of any of the others, each lawyer who is sharing space must disclose in writing to all of the lawyer’s clients:

(a)     that an arrangement for sharing space exists,

(b)     the identity of the lawyers who make up the firm acting for the client, and

(c)     that lawyers sharing space with the firm are free to act for other clients who are adverse in interest to the client.



[1]  Like other lawyers, those who share space must take all reasonable measures to ensure client confidentiality. Lawyers who do not wish to act for clients adverse in interest to clients of lawyers with whom they share space should establish an adequate conflicts check system.

[2]  In order both to ensure confidentiality and to avoid conflicts, a lawyer must have the consent of each client before disclosing any information about the client for the purpose of conflicts checks. Consent may be implied in some cases but, if there is any doubt, the best course is to obtain express consent.

3.5  Preservation of clients’ property

3.5-1  In this section, “property” includes a client’s money, securities as defined in the Securities Act, original documents such as wills, title deeds, minute books, licences, certificates and the like, and all other papers such as client’s correspondence, files, reports, invoices and other such documents, as well as personal property including precious and semi-precious metals, jewellery and the like.

3.5-2  A lawyer must:

(a)     care for a client’s property as a careful and prudent owner would when dealing with like property; and

(b)     observe all relevant rules and law about the preservation of a client’s property entrusted to a lawyer.



[1]  The duties concerning safekeeping, preserving, and accounting for clients’ monies and other property are set out in the Law Society Rules.

[2]  These duties are closely related to those regarding confidential information. A lawyer is responsible for maintaining the safety and confidentiality of the files of the client in the possession of the lawyer and should take all reasonable steps to ensure the privacy and safekeeping of a client’s confidential information. A lawyer should keep the client’s papers and other property out of sight as well as out of reach of those not entitled to see them.

[3]  Subject to any rights of lien, the lawyer should promptly return a client’s property to the client on request or at the conclusion of the lawyer’s retainer.

[4]  If the lawyer withdraws from representing a client, the lawyer is required to comply with section 3.7 (Withdrawal from Representation).

Notification of receipt of property

3.5-3  A lawyer must promptly notify a client of the receipt of any money or other property of the client, unless satisfied that the client is aware that they have come into the lawyer’s custody.

Identifying clients’ property

3.5-4  A lawyer must clearly label and identify clients’ property and place it in safekeeping distinguishable from the lawyer’s own property.

3.5-5  A lawyer must maintain such records as necessary to identify clients’ property that is in the lawyer’s custody.

Accounting and delivery

3.5-6  A lawyer must account promptly for clients’ property that is in the lawyer’s custody and deliver it to the order of the client on request or, if appropriate, at the conclusion of the retainer.

3.6  Fees and disbursements
Reasonable fees and disbursements

3.6-1  A lawyer must not charge or accept a fee or disbursement, including interest, unless it is fair and reasonable and has been disclosed in a timely fashion. 



[1]  What is a fair and reasonable fee depends on such factors as:

(a)     the time and effort required and spent;

(b)     the difficulty of the matter and the importance of the matter to the client;

(c)     whether special skill or service has been required and provided;

(d)     the results obtained;

(e)     fees authorized by statute or regulation;

(f)      special circumstances, such as the postponement of payment, uncertainty of reward, or urgency;

(g)     the likelihood, if made known to the client, that acceptance of the retainer will result in the lawyer’s inability to accept other employment;

(h)     any relevant agreement between the lawyer and the client;

(i)      the experience and ability of the lawyer;

(j)      any estimate or range of fees given by the lawyer; and

(k)     the client’s prior consent to the fee.

[2]  The fiduciary relationship between lawyer and client requires full disclosure in all financial dealings between them and prohibits the acceptance by the lawyer of any hidden fees. No fee, extra fees, reward, costs, commission, interest, rebate, agency or forwarding allowance, or other compensation related to professional employment may be taken by the lawyer from anyone other than the client without full disclosure to and the consent of the client or, where the lawyer’s fees are being paid by someone other than the client, such as a legal aid agency, a borrower, or a personal representative, without the consent of such agency or other person.

[3]  A lawyer should provide to the client in writing, before or within a reasonable time after commencing a representation, as much information regarding fees and disbursements, and interest, as is reasonable and practical in the circumstances, including the basis on which fees will be determined.

[4]  A lawyer should be ready to explain the basis of the fees and disbursement charged to the client.  This is particularly important concerning fee charges or disbursements that the client might not reasonably be expected to anticipate. When something unusual or unforeseen occurs that may substantially affect the amount of a fee or disbursement, the lawyer should give to the client an immediate explanation. A lawyer should confirm with the client in writing the substance of all fee discussions that occur as a matter progresses, and a lawyer may revise an initial estimate of fees and disbursements.


Contingent fees and contingent fee agreements

3.6-2  Subject to rule 3.6-1, a lawyer may enter into a written agreement in accordance with governing legislation that provides that the lawyer’s fee is contingent, in whole or in part, on the outcome of the matter for which the lawyer’s services are to be provided.



[1]  In determining the appropriate percentage or other basis of a contingency fee, a lawyer and client should consider a number of factors, including the likelihood of success, the nature and complexity of the claim, the expense and risk of pursuing it, the amount of the expected recovery and who is to receive an award of costs. The test is whether the fee, in all of the circumstances, is fair and reasonable.

[2]  Although a lawyer is generally permitted to terminate the professional relationship with a client and withdraw services if there is justifiable cause as set out in rule 3.7-1, special circumstances apply when the retainer is pursuant to a contingency agreement. In such circumstances, the lawyer has impliedly undertaken the risk of not being paid in the event the suit is unsuccessful. Accordingly, a lawyer cannot withdraw from representation for reasons other than those set out in Rule 3.7-7 (Obligatory withdrawal) unless the written contingency contract specifically states that the lawyer has a right to do so and sets out the circumstances under which this may occur.

[[1] amended 04/2013]

Statement of account

3.6-3  In a statement of an account delivered to a client, a lawyer must clearly and separately detail the amounts charged as fees and disbursements.



[1]  A lawyer’s duty of candour to a client requires the lawyer to disclose to the client at the outset, in a manner that is transparent and understandable to the client, the basis on which the client is to be billed for both professional time (lawyer, student and paralegal) and any other charges.

[2]  Party-and-party costs received by a lawyer are the property of the client and should therefore be accounted for to the client. While an agreement that the lawyer will be entitled to costs is not uncommon, it does not affect the lawyer’s obligation to disclose the costs to the client.

[[1] rescinded 04/2013; added 06/2015]

Joint retainer

3.6-4  If a lawyer acts for two or more clients in the same matter, the lawyer must divide the fees and disbursements equitably between them, unless there is an agreement by the clients otherwise.

Division of fees and referral fees

3.6-5  If there is consent from the client, fees for a matter may be divided between lawyers who are not in the same firm, provided that the fees are divided in proportion to the work done and the responsibilities assumed.

3.6-6  If a lawyer refers a matter to another lawyer because of the expertise and ability of the other lawyer to handle the matter, and the referral was not made because of a conflict of interest, the referring lawyer may accept, and the other lawyer may pay, a referral fee, provided that:

(a)     the fee is reasonable and does not increase the total amount of the fee charged to the client; and

(b)     the client is informed and consents.

3.6-6.1  In rule 3.6-7, “another lawyer” includes a person who is:

(a)     a member of a recognized legal profession in any other jurisdiction; and

(b)     acting in compliance with the law and any rules of the legal profession of the other jurisdiction

3.6-7  A lawyer must not:

(a)     directly or indirectly share, split or divide his or her fees with any person other than another lawyer; or

(b)     give any financial or other reward for the referral of clients or client matters to any person other than another lawyer. 



[1]  This rule prohibits lawyers from entering into arrangements to compensate or reward non-lawyers for the referral of clients. It does not prevent a lawyer from engaging in promotional activities involving reasonable expenditures on promotional items or activities that might result in the referral of clients generally by a non-lawyer. Accordingly, this rule does not prohibit a lawyer from:

(a)     making an arrangement respecting the purchase and sale of a law practice when the consideration payable includes a percentage of revenues generated from the practice sold;

(b)     entering into a lease under which a landlord directly or indirectly shares in the fees or revenues generated by the law practice;

(c)     paying an employee for services, other than for referring clients, based on the revenue of the lawyer’s firm or practice; or

(d)     occasionally entertaining potential referral sources by purchasing meals providing tickets to, or attending at, sporting or other activities or sponsoring client functions.


Exception for multi-disciplinary practices

3.6-8  Despite rule 3.6-7, a lawyer permitted to practise in a multi-disciplinary practice (MDP) under the Law Society Rules may share fees, profits or revenue from the practice of law in the MDP with a non-lawyer member of the MDP only if all the owners of the MDP are individuals or professional corporations actively involved in the MDP’s delivery of legal services to clients or in the management of the MDP.



[2]  This rule also allows a lawyer to share fees or profits of an MDP with a non-lawyer for the purpose of paying out the ownership interest of the non-lawyer acquired by the non-lawyer’s active participation in the MDP’s delivery of services to clients or in the management of the MDP.

[3]  See also the definitions of “MDP” and “professional corporation” in Rule 1 and Rules 2-38 to 2-49 of the Law Society Rules.

[[3] updated 07/2015]

Payment and appropriation of funds

3.6-9  If a lawyer and client agree that the lawyer will act only if the lawyer’s retainer is paid in advance, the lawyer must confirm that agreement in writing with the client and specify a payment date.

3. 6-10  A lawyer must not appropriate any client funds held in trust or otherwise under the lawyer’s control for or on account of fees, except as permitted by the governing legislation.



[1]  The rule is not intended to be an exhaustive statement of the considerations that apply to payment of a lawyer’s account from trust. The handling of trust money is generally governed by the Law Society Rules.

[2]  Refusing to reimburse any portion of advance fees for work that has not been carried out when the contract of professional services with the client has terminated is a breach of the obligation to act with integrity.


3.6-11  If the amount of fees or disbursements charged by a lawyer is reduced on a review or assessment, the lawyer must repay the monies to the client as soon as is practicable.

Prepaid legal services plan

3.6-12  A lawyer who accepts a client referred by a prepaid legal services plan must advise the client in writing of:

(a)     the scope of work to be undertaken by the lawyer under the plan; and

(b)     the extent to which a fee or disbursement will be payable by the client to the lawyer.

3.7  Withdrawal from representation

3.7-1  A lawyer must not withdraw from representation of a client except for good cause and on reasonable notice to the client. 



[1]  Although the client has the right to terminate the lawyer-client relationship at will, a lawyer does not enjoy the same freedom of action. Having undertaken the representation of a client, the lawyer should complete the task as ably as possible unless there is justifiable cause for terminating the relationship. It is inappropriate for a lawyer to withdraw on capricious or arbitrary grounds.

[2]  An essential element of reasonable notice is notification to the client, unless the client cannot be located after reasonable efforts. No hard and fast rules can be laid down as to what constitutes reasonable notice before withdrawal and how quickly a lawyer may cease acting after notification will depend on all relevant circumstances. When the matter is covered by statutory provisions or rules of court, these will govern. In other situations, the governing principle is that the lawyer should protect the client's interests to the best of the lawyer’s ability and should not desert the client at a critical stage of a matter or at a time when withdrawal would put the client in a position of disadvantage or peril. As a general rule, the client should be given sufficient time to retain and instruct replacement counsel. Nor should withdrawal or an intention to withdraw be permitted to waste court time or prevent other counsel from reallocating time or resources scheduled for the matter in question. See rule 3.7-8 (Manner of withdrawal).

[3]  Every effort should be made to ensure that withdrawal occurs at an appropriate time in the proceedings in keeping with the lawyer’s obligations. The court, opposing parties and others directly affected should also be notified of the withdrawal.

[4]  When a lawyer leaves a law firm to practise alone or to join another law firm, the departing lawyer and the law firm have a duty to inform all clients for whom the departing lawyer is the responsible lawyer in a legal matter that the clients have a right to choose who will continue to represent them. The same duty may arise when a firm is winding up or dividing into smaller units.

[5]  This duty does not arise if the lawyers affected by the changes, acting reasonably, conclude that the circumstances make it obvious that a client will continue as a client of a particular lawyer or law firm.

[6]  When this Chapter requires a notification to clients, each client must receive a letter as soon as practicable after the effective date of the changes is determined, informing the client of the right to choose his or her lawyer.

[7]  It is preferable that this letter be sent jointly by the firm and any lawyers affected by the changes. However, in the absence of a joint announcement, the firm or any lawyers affected by the changes may send letters in substantially the form set out in a precedent letter on the Law Society website (see Practice Resources).

[8]  Lawyers whose clients are affected by changes in a law firm have a continuing obligation to protect client information and property, and must minimize any adverse effect on the interests of clients. This obligation generally includes an obligation to ensure that files transferred to a new lawyer or law firm are properly transitioned, including, when necessary, describing the status of the file and noting any unfulfilled undertakings and other outstanding commitments.

[9]  The right of a client to be informed of changes to a law firm and to choose his or her lawyer cannot be curtailed by any contractual or other arrangement.

[10]  With respect to communication other than that required by these rules, lawyers should be mindful of the common law restrictions upon uses of proprietary information, and interference with contractual and professional relations between the law firm and its clients. 


Optional withdrawal

3.7-2  If there has been a serious loss of confidence between the lawyer and the client, the lawyer may withdraw.



[1]  A lawyer may have a justifiable cause for withdrawal in circumstances indicating a loss of confidence, for example, if a lawyer is deceived by his client, the client refuses to accept and act upon the lawyer’s advice on a significant point, a client is persistently unreasonable or uncooperative in a material respect, or the lawyer is facing difficulty in obtaining adequate instructions from the client. However, the lawyer should not use the threat of withdrawal as a device to force a hasty decision by the client on a difficult question.


Non-payment of fees

3.7-3  If, after reasonable notice, the client fails to provide a retainer or funds on account of disbursements or fees, a lawyer may withdraw.



[1]  When the lawyer withdraws because the client has not paid the lawyer’s fee, the lawyer should ensure that there is sufficient time for the client to obtain the services of another lawyer and for that other lawyer to prepare adequately for a hearing or trial.

[2]  In criminal matters, if withdrawal is a result of non-payment of the lawyer’s fees, the court may exercise its discretion to refuse counsel’s withdrawal. The court’s order refusing counsel’s withdrawal may be enforced by the court’s contempt power. See R. v. Cunningham, 2010 SCC 10.

[3]  The relationship between a lawyer and client is contractual in nature, and the general rules respecting breach of contract and repudiation apply. Except in criminal matters involving non-payment of fees, if a lawyer decides to withdraw as counsel in a proceeding, the court has no jurisdiction to prevent the lawyer from doing so, and the decision to withdraw is not reviewable by the court, subject to its authority to cite a lawyer for contempt if there is evidence that the withdrawal was done for some improper purpose. Otherwise, the decision to withdraw is a matter of professional responsibility, and a lawyer who withdraws in contravention of this Chapter is subject to disciplinary action by the Benchers. See Re Leask and Cronin (1985), 66 BCLR 187 (SC). In civil proceedings the lawyer is not required to obtain the court’s approval before withdrawing as counsel, but must comply with the Rules of Court before being relieved of the responsibilities that attach as “solicitor acting for the party.” See Luchka v. Zens (1989), 37 BCLR (2d) 127 (CA).”


Withdrawal from criminal proceedings

3.7-4  If a lawyer has agreed to act in a criminal case and the interval between a withdrawal and the trial of the case is sufficient to enable the client to obtain another lawyer and to allow such other lawyer adequate time for preparation, the lawyer who has agreed to act may withdraw because the client has not paid the agreed fee or for other adequate cause provided that the lawyer:

(a)     notifies the client, in writing, that the lawyer is withdrawing because the fees have not been paid or for other adequate cause;

(b)     accounts to the client for any monies received on account of fees and disbursements;

(c)     notifies Crown counsel in writing that the lawyer is no longer acting;

(d)     in a case when the lawyer’s name appears on the records of the court as acting for the accused, notifies the clerk or registrar of the appropriate court in writing that the lawyer is no longer acting; and

(e)     complies with the applicable rules of court.


3.7-5  If a lawyer has agreed to act in a criminal case and the date set for trial is not such as to enable the client to obtain another lawyer or to enable another lawyer to prepare adequately for trial and an adjournment of the trial date cannot be obtained without adversely affecting the client’s interests, the lawyer who agreed to act must not withdraw because of non-payment of fees. 

3.7-6  If a lawyer is justified in withdrawing from a criminal case for reasons other than non-payment of fees and there is not a sufficient interval between a notice to the client of the lawyer’s intention to withdraw and the date on which the case is to be tried to enable the client to obtain another lawyer and to enable such lawyer to prepare adequately for trial, the first lawyer, unless instructed otherwise by the client, should attempt to have the trial date adjourned and may withdraw from the case only with the permission of the court before which the case is to be tried.



[1]  If circumstances arise that, in the opinion of the lawyer, require an application to the court for leave to withdraw, the lawyer should promptly inform Crown counsel and the court of the intention to apply for leave in order to avoid or minimize any inconvenience to the court and witnesses.

Obligatory withdrawal

3.7-7  A lawyer must withdraw if:

(a)     discharged by a client;

(b)     a client persists in instructing the lawyer to act contrary to professional ethics; or

(c)     the lawyer is not competent to continue to handle a matter.


Manner of withdrawal

3.7-8  When a lawyer withdraws, the lawyer must try to minimize expense and avoid prejudice to the client and must do all that can reasonably be done to facilitate the orderly transfer of the matter to the successor lawyer.

3.7-9  On discharge or withdrawal, a lawyer must, as soon as practicable:

(a)     notify the client in writing, stating:

(i)         the fact that the lawyer is no longer acting;

(ii)        the reasons, if any, for the withdrawal; and

(iii)       in the case of litigation, that the client should expect that the hearing or trial will proceed on the date scheduled and that the client should retain new counsel promptly;

(a.1)  notify in writing all other parties, including the Crown where appropriate, that the lawyer is no longer acting;

(b)     subject to the lawyer’s right to a lien, deliver to or to the order of the client all papers and property to which the client is entitled;

(c)     subject to any applicable trust conditions, give the client all relevant information in connection with the case or matter; 

(d)     account for all funds of the client then held or previously dealt with, including the refunding of any remuneration not earned during the representation;

(e)     promptly render an account for outstanding fees and disbursements;

(f)      co-operate with the successor lawyer in the transfer of the file so as to minimize expense and avoid prejudice to the client; and

(g)     notify in writing the court registry where the lawyer’s name appears as counsel for the client that the lawyer is no longer acting and comply with the applicable rules of court and any other requirements of the tribunal.

[amended 07/2015]



[1]  If the lawyer who is discharged or withdraws is a member of a firm, the client should be notified that the lawyer and the firm are no longer acting for the client.

[3]  The obligation to deliver papers and property is subject to a lawyer’s right of lien. In the event of conflicting claims to such papers or property, the lawyer should make every effort to have the claimants settle the dispute.

[4]  Co-operation with the successor lawyer will normally include providing any memoranda of fact and law that have been prepared by the lawyer in connection with the matter, but confidential information not clearly related to the matter should not be divulged without the written consent of the client.

[5]  A lawyer acting for several clients in a case or matter who ceases to act for one or more of them should co-operate with the successor lawyer or lawyers to the extent required by the rules and should seek to avoid any unseemly rivalry, whether real or apparent.



3.7-9.1  Subject to exceptions permitted by law, if the reason for withdrawal results from confidential communications between the lawyer and the client, the lawyer must not disclose the reason for the withdrawal unless the client consents.



[1]  One such exception is that in R. v. Cunningham, 2010 SCC 10, which establishes that, in a criminal case, if the disclosure of information related to the payment of the lawyer’s fees is unrelated to the merits of the case and does not prejudice the accused, the lawyer may properly disclose such information to the court. See para. 31:

Disclosure of non-payment of fees in cases where it is unrelated to the merits and will not cause prejudice to the accused is not an exception to privilege, such as the innocence at stake or public safety exceptions (see generally R. v. McClure, 2001 SCC 14 and Smith v. Jones, [1999] 1 S.C.R. 455). Rather, non-payment of legal fees in this context does not attract the protection of solicitor-client privilege in the first place. However, nothing in these reasons, which address the application, or non-application, of solicitor-client privilege in disclosures to a court, should be taken as affecting counsel’s ethical duty of confidentiality with respect to payment or non-payment of fees in other contexts.

Duty of successor lawyer

3.7-10  Before agreeing to represent a client, a successor lawyer must be satisfied that the former lawyer has withdrawn or has been discharged by the client.



[1]  It is quite proper for the successor lawyer to urge the client to settle or take reasonable steps towards settling or securing any outstanding account of the former lawyer, especially if the latter withdrew for good cause or was capriciously discharged. But, if a trial or hearing is in progress or imminent, or if the client would otherwise be prejudiced, the existence of an outstanding account should not be allowed to interfere with the successor lawyer acting for the client.