Chapter 2 – Standards of the Legal Profession – annotated

2.1  Canons of Legal Ethics

These Canons of Legal Ethics in rules 2.1-1 to 2.1-5 are a general guide and not a denial of the existence of other duties equally imperative and of other rights, though not specifically mentioned. A version of these Canons has formed part of the Code of Professional Conduct of the Law Society of British Columbia since 1921. They are included here both for their historical value and for their statement of general principles that underlie the remainder of the rules in this Code.

A lawyer is a minister of justice, an officer of the courts, a client’s advocate and a member of an ancient, honourable and learned profession.

In these several capacities, it is a lawyer’s duty to promote the interests of the state, serve the cause of justice, maintain the authority and dignity of the courts, be faithful to clients, be candid and courteous in relations with other lawyers and demonstrate personal integrity.

2.1-1  To the state

(a)     A lawyer owes a duty to the state, to maintain its integrity and its law. A lawyer should not aid, counsel or assist any person to act in any way contrary to the law.

(b)     When engaged as a Crown prosecutor, a lawyer’s primary duty is not to seek a conviction but to see that justice is done; to that end the lawyer should make timely disclosure to the defence of all facts and known witnesses whether tending to show guilt or innocence, or that would affect the punishment of the accused.

(c)     A lawyer should accept without hesitation, and if need be without fee or reward, the cause of any person assigned to the lawyer by the court, and exert every effort on behalf of that person.

2.1-2  To courts and tribunals

(a)     A lawyer’s conduct should at all times be characterized by candour and fairness. The lawyer should maintain toward a court or tribunal a courteous and respectful attitude and insist on similar conduct on the part of clients, at the same time discharging professional duties to clients resolutely and with self-respecting independence.

(b)     Judges, not being free to defend themselves, are entitled to receive the support of the legal profession against unjust criticism and complaint. Whenever there is proper ground for serious complaint against a judicial officer, it is proper for a lawyer to submit the grievance to the appropriate authorities.

(c)     A lawyer should not attempt to deceive a court or tribunal by offering false evidence or by misstating facts or law and should not, either in argument to the judge or in address to the jury, assert a personal belief in an accused’s guilt or innocence, in the justice or merits of the client’s cause or in the evidence tendered before the court.

(d)     A lawyer should never seek privately to influence a court or tribunal, directly or indirectly, in the lawyer’s or a client’s favour, nor should the lawyer attempt to curry favour with juries by fawning, flattery or pretended solicitude for their personal comfort.


2.1-3  To the client

(a)     A lawyer should obtain sufficient knowledge of the relevant facts and give adequate consideration to the applicable law before advising a client, and give an open and undisguised opinion of the merits and probable results of the client’s cause. The lawyer should be wary of bold and confident assurances to the client, especially where the lawyer’s employment may depend on such assurances. The lawyer should bear in mind that seldom are all the law and facts on the client’s side, and that audi alteram partem (hear the other side) is a safe rule to follow.

(b)     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 controversy, if any, that might influence whether the client selects or continues to retain the lawyer. A lawyer must not act where there is a conflict of interests between the lawyer and a client or between clients.

(c)     Whenever the dispute will admit of fair settlement the client should be advised to avoid or to end the litigation.

(d)     A lawyer should treat adverse witnesses, litigants and counsel with fairness and courtesy, refraining from all offensive personalities. The lawyer must not allow a client’s personal feelings and prejudices to detract from the lawyer’s professional duties. At the same time, the lawyer should represent the client’s interests resolutely and without fear of judicial disfavour or public unpopularity.

(e)     A lawyer should endeavour by all fair and honourable means to obtain for a client the benefit of any and every remedy and defence that is authorized by law. The lawyer must, however, steadfastly bear in mind that this great trust is to be performed within and not without the bounds of the law. The office of the lawyer does not permit, much less demand, for any client, violation of law or any manner of fraud or chicanery. No client has a right to demand that the lawyer be illiberal or do anything repugnant to the lawyer’s own sense of honour and propriety.

(f)      It is a lawyer’s right to undertake the defence of a person accused of crime, regardless of the lawyer’s own personal opinion as to the guilt of the accused. Having undertaken such defence, the lawyer is bound to present, by all fair and honourable means and in a manner consistent with the client’s instructions, every defence that the law of the land permits, to the end that no person will be convicted except by due process of law.

(g)     A lawyer should not, except as by law expressly sanctioned, acquire by purchase or otherwise any interest in the subject-matter of the litigation being conducted by the lawyer. A lawyer should scrupulously guard, and not divulge or use for personal benefit, a client’s secrets or confidences. Having once acted for a client in a matter, a lawyer must not act against the client in the same or any related matter.

(h)     A lawyer must record, and should report promptly to a client the receipt of any moneys or other trust property. The lawyer must use the client’s moneys and trust property only as authorized by the client, and not commingle it with that of the lawyer.

(i)      A lawyer is entitled to reasonable compensation for services rendered, but should avoid charges that are unreasonably high or low. The client’s ability to pay cannot justify a charge in excess of the value of the service, though it may require a reduction or waiver of the fee.

(j)      A lawyer should try to avoid controversies with clients regarding compensation so far as is compatible with self-respect and with the right to receive reasonable recompense for services. A lawyer should always bear in mind that the profession is a branch of the administration of justice and not a mere money-making business.

(k)     A lawyer who appears as an advocate should not submit the lawyer’s own affidavit to or testify before a court or tribunal except as to purely formal or uncontroverted matters, such as the attestation or custody of a document, unless it is necessary in the interests of justice. If the lawyer is a necessary witness with respect to other matters, the conduct of the case should be entrusted to other counsel.


2.1-4  To other lawyers

(a)     A lawyer’s conduct toward other lawyers should be characterized by courtesy and good faith. Any ill feeling that may exist between clients or lawyers, particularly during litigation, should never be allowed to influence lawyers in their conduct and demeanour toward each other or the parties. Personal remarks or references between lawyers should be scrupulously avoided, as should quarrels between lawyers that cause delay and promote unseemly wrangling.

(b)     A lawyer should neither give nor request an undertaking that cannot be fulfilled and should fulfil every undertaking given. A lawyer should never communicate upon or attempt to negotiate or compromise a matter directly with any party who the lawyer knows is represented therein by another lawyer, except through or with the consent of that other lawyer.

(c)     A lawyer should avoid all sharp practice and should take no paltry advantage when an opponent has made a slip or overlooked some technical matter. A lawyer should accede to reasonable requests that do not prejudice the rights of the client or the interests of justice.


2.1-5  To oneself

(a)     A lawyer should assist in maintaining the honour and integrity of the legal profession, should expose before the proper tribunals without fear or favour, unprofessional or dishonest conduct by any other lawyer and should accept without hesitation a retainer against any lawyer who is alleged to have wronged the client.

(b)     It is the duty of every lawyer to guard the Bar against the admission to the profession of any candidate whose moral character or education renders that person unfit for admission.

(c)     A lawyer should make legal services available to the public in an efficient and convenient manner that will command respect and confidence. A lawyer’s best advertisement is the establishment of a well-merited reputation for competence and trustworthiness.

(d)     No client is entitled to receive, nor should any lawyer render any service or advice involving disloyalty to the state or disrespect for judicial office, or the corruption of any persons exercising a public or private trust, or deception or betrayal of the public.

(e)     A lawyer should recognize that the oaths taken upon admission to the Bar are solemn undertakings to be strictly observed.

(f)      All lawyers should bear in mind that they can maintain the high traditions of the profession by steadfastly adhering to the time-honoured virtues of probity, integrity, honesty and dignity.

2.2  Integrity

2.2-1  A lawyer has a duty to carry on the practice of law and discharge all responsibilities to clients, tribunals, the public and other members of the profession honourably and with integrity.


[1]  Integrity is the fundamental quality of any person who seeks to practise as a member of the legal profession. If clients have any doubt about their lawyers’ trustworthiness, the essential element in the true lawyer-client relationship will be missing. If integrity is lacking, the lawyer’s usefulness to the client and reputation within the profession will be destroyed, regardless of how competent the lawyer may be.

[2]  Public confidence in the administration of justice and in the legal profession may be eroded by a lawyer’s irresponsible conduct. Accordingly, a lawyer’s conduct should reflect favourably on the legal profession, inspire the confidence, respect and trust of clients and of the community, and avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

[3]  Dishonourable or questionable conduct on the part of a lawyer in either private life or professional practice will reflect adversely upon the integrity of the profession and the administration of justice. Whether within or outside the professional sphere, if the conduct is such that knowledge of it would be likely to impair a client’s trust in the lawyer, the Society may be justified in taking disciplinary action.

[4]  Generally, however, the Society will not be concerned with the purely private or extra-professional activities of a lawyer that do not bring into question the lawyer’s professional integrity.

[[1] amended 10/2021]


2.2-2  A lawyer has a duty to uphold the standards and reputation of the legal profession and to assist in the advancement of its goals, organizations and institutions.


[1]  Collectively, lawyers are encouraged to enhance the profession through activities such as:

(a)     sharing knowledge and experience with colleagues and students informally in day-to-day practice as well as through contribution to professional journals and publications, support of law school projects and participation in panel discussions, legal education seminars, bar admission courses and university lectures;

(b)     participating in legal aid and community legal services programs or providing legal services on a pro bono basis;

(c)     filling elected and volunteer positions with the Society;

(d)     acting as directors, officers and members of local, provincial, national and international bar associations and their various committees and sections; and

(e)     acting as directors, officers and members of non-profit or charitable organizations.