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Professional responsibilities of lawyers and paralegals

Region: Ontario Answer Number: 859

 

Lawyers’ duties

Lawyers are under a “fiduciary duty” in their dealings with clients. This means that they owe a duty of good faith to their clients and therefore must act scrupulously.  They and are also governed by the Law Society of Ontario’s Rules of Professional Conduct, which impose certain ethical standards and duties. In addition, lawyers must meet a standard of competence in their work, and be able to handle any legal matter they undertake. If they are not competent to do so, they must refer you to a lawyer who is competent to handle the matter.

They have a duty to provide objective advice about a problem, and to defend their clients’ interests. Lawyers must maintain confidentiality with respect to communications with their clients, and they must be candid and honest with their clients. Lawyers cannot put themselves in a conflict of interest. This means that they cannot represent two opposed interests at the same time. For example, a lawyer cannot represent both the husband and wife when preparing a separation agreement. Lawyers cannot persuade clients to enter into investments or business schemes where the lawyer has invested the lawyer’s own money unless the client is referred to another lawyer for independent legal advice.

Paralegals’ duties

Similar to lawyers, paralegals must also meet a standard of competence in their work. In Ontario, paralegals are governed by the Law Society and therefore, they are under an obligation to abide by the Law Society’s Paralegal Rules of Conduct. The Rules of Conduct set out the same responsibilities as lawyers have, in regards to competency, professionalism and honesty. Paralegals must also maintain confidentiality with their clients, and they cannot put themselves in a conflict of interest. Paralegals also have a duty, just as lawyers do, to report any misconduct to the Law Society. This conduct could include misappropriation of trust moneys by a licensee, abandonment of a law practice by a lawyer or a legal service practice by a paralegal, or participation in serious criminal activity.

 

Scrutiny

Because lawyers and paralegals must adhere to a high level of professional responsibility and fiduciary duty, they are subject to significant scrutiny by the Law Society. If lawyers or paralegals violate their professional responsibilities, they may have to undergo a full investigation, which can lead to being disciplined by the Law Society.

In more serious cases, the lawyer’s right to practice may be:

  • suspended, or
  • withdrawn altogether (which means that the lawyer has been disbarred), or

the Law Society may give the lawyer:

  • permission to resign, or
  • the lawyer may be reprimanded with the fact being published.

A paralegal may also have their licence suspended and not be allowed to provide legal services, or their licence may be revoked, in which case they must close their professional business altogether and return client files and trust funds.



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