Why Did My Lawyer Terminate Their Services?
A client is always free to terminate the services of their legal counsel, although sometimes it is not a good idea to do so immediately before a court hearing unless absolutely necessary. However, a lawyer may also terminate services through two ways: 1) either an optional withdrawal if all the conditions are met, or 2) a mandatory withdrawal. This blog will focus on the latter option when a lawyer is sometimes forced to withdraw from your case because of their duty as an officer of the Court. In Alberta, a lawyer has a positive obligation to terminate the solicitor-client relationship if any of three reasons occur:
- The client has discharged the lawyer;
- The client persists in instructing the lawyer to act contrary to professional ethics; or
- The lawyer is not competent to continue to handle the matter.
As officers of the court, lawyers are never allowed to knowingly give misrepresentations or false evidence that has been tendered by their client. Lawyers must act ethically at all stages of the litigation, which means that even if a client instructs the lawyer to act or provide argument in a certain manner, the lawyer may not do so if it contradicts professional ethical obligations, and a litigant could end up without that lawyer. For instance, if a client has confessed to the lawyer that he was lying in his affidavit but repeatedly demands that the lawyer continue to rely on the affidavit in court proceedings, the lawyer would be unable to do so, and must instead get off the record. The lawyer will not tell the court what happened to cause the withdrawal, and the lawyer should still do his/her best to protect the client by making sure the withdrawal is done in a manner which minimizes expense and prejudice to the client. The lawyer will also give a client written notice that they are withdrawing from a client’s case. To prevent this scenario from happening, it is extremely important that a client not instruct a lawyer to act in a manner which would be unethical or contrary to professional obligations. Although counsel have a fiduciary duty to their client, a lawyer’s duty to the Court is vital to the administration of justice, and thus, as an officer of the court, a lawyer will have to put their obligation to the court ahead of taking instructions from their client, when those instructions are unethical and/or illegal.