Barrie Hayes, Partner, Family Law.

Let’s face it, short of dying, a family separation can be one of life’s most emotionally challenging experiences. Fear, anger, and frustration are common reactions in difficult separations. To get them through this difficult period clients look to their family lawyer. as their champion and trusted advisor.

I’ve sometimes had the experience of a client expecting that I will represent them not as a champion but as more of a gunslinger. The client, in those circumstances, seems to want me to transfer the pain and upset the client is experiencing into the Family Court arena.

This attitude of the client is not only counter-productive to an orderly, efficient resolution of the outstanding legal issues, it also places the lawyer in potential conflict with the Law Society of Upper Canada’s code of professional conduct.

The lawyers’ Code of Professional Conduct imposes a professional obligation on lawyers to treat lawyers and clients with courtesy and civility. Lawyer’s can be subject to professional discipline if a lawyer fails to maintain a civil and courteous relationship with opposing counsel or self represented parties.

I often tell clients that when they are in the throes of a difficult separation, that the last thing they need is to have the parties respective counsel going at war with each other. Those circumstances can only result in delays and an increase in the legal costs for the parties.

As a lawyer, I have an obligation to be my client’s advocate. There is, however, a dangerous line crossed when counsel becomes too emotionally invested in the clients legal difficulties. A lawyer owes an obligation to a client to provide the client with objective, dispassionate legal advice without undue consideration for the client’s emotional outlook.

There is an old story of a client who, after retaining the lawyer, was told by that lawyer that the first meeting would be the occasion that the client would find the lawyer the most likable. There is a necessary truth in that story.