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#2 - Client Service


1.  A lawyer must be competent to undertake the professional services they are offering.1

     a) A lawyer must know the general legal principles and procedures and the substantive law and procedure for their areas of practice.2

     b) A lawyer must obtain the facts, identify the issues, ascertain the client’s objectives, consider possible options and develop and advise the client on appropriate courses of action except in those circumstances in which the lawyer’s retention is for limited scope of professional services.3

     c) A lawyer must exercise the appropriate skills for any matter on which they are retained.4

2.  A lawyer must communicate with their clients at all relevant stages of a matter in a timely and effective manner.5

3.  A lawyer must perform their services conscientiously, diligently and in a timely and cost-effective manner.6

4.  A lawyer must apply appropriate intellect, judgment, and deliberation to all of their professional services.7

5.  A lawyer must comply with the letter and spirit with all rules of professional conduct.

6.  A lawyer must recognize their own professional limitations and take appropriate measures to ensure that clients are effectively served.8

7.  Lawyers must manage his/her practice in a manner which will maintain these standards.

8.  A lawyer must continually pursue appropriate professional development to maintain and enhance their legal knowledge and skills.9

9.  A lawyer must continually adapt to changing professional requirements, standards, techniques, and practices.10
10.  A lawyer’s services must be delivered promptly, courteously, and thoroughly.11

       a) A lawyer must keep their clients reasonably informed.12

       b) A lawyer must frankly and thoroughly answer their clients’ reasonable requests for information.13

       c) A lawyer must respond to their clients’ telephone calls and other inquiries with reasonable promptness.14

       d) A lawyer must keep their appointments with their clients or provide those clients with timely notice and explanation when appointments cannot be kept.

11.  A lawyer must be honest and candid in providing information to their clients.15

12.  When the lawyer’s client is an organization, the lawyer’s advice and services must align with the interests of the organization regardless of the identity of the instructing party (officer, director, shareholder, administrator or trustee).16

13.  A lawyer must advise and encourage their clients to compromise and settle their dispute unless such advice would be unreasonable in the context.

14.  A lawyer must discourage their clients from commencing or continuing legal proceedings which are not soundly based.17


1 See generally rule 3.1-2 of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society, Code of Professional Conduct, Halifax: Nova Scotia Barristers' Society, 2012 (“the Code”). This rule is to be read in conjunction with rule 3.2-1 of the Code addressing client service which is courteous, prompt and thorough.  

2 See Commentaries [2] through [7] set out under rule 3.1-2 of the Code. For practical purposes, knowledge is generally regarded as including the ability to acquire the knowledge of law and procedure necessary to provide the legal services the client requires.

3 Rule 3.2-1A of the Code permits lawyers to engage with clients for a limited scope of legal services. Attendance with a client on an initial court appearance for plea is but one example. In all such circumstances, the lawyer’s arrangements with the client must be confirmed in writing. At the same time, lawyers acting for clients on limited scope retainers must be careful to ensure that they do not convey information to the client from which retention for broader legal services might be inferred. Lawyers acting on limited scope retainers must also be clear to the courts, tribunals and opposing lawyers that their services or appearances are in fact limited.   

4 Generally speaking, appropriate skill will include: an understanding of the subject matter for which the lawyer has been retained (or, in the alternative, the ability to acquire an understanding of that subject matter, legal research, analysis, application of the law to the relevant facts, writing and drafting, negotiation, alternative dispute resolution, organized and persuasive advocacy (both written and oral) and problem solving.) In certain circumstances, a lawyer’s ethical duty to her or his client will require the referral of the latter to alternative counsel or at least the retention (on the client’s instructions) of the assistance of alternative counsel (see: Commentaries [5] through [7] set out under rule 3.1-2 (supra). 

5 See rule 3.1-1(d) of the Code. 

6 See rule 3.1-1(e) of the Code. 

7 See rule 3.1-2 of the Code and footnote 4 (supra). See also the extensive commentaries set out under rule 3.1-2 of the Code which assist in defining the scope and application of the Code’s general competency requirements.

8 By alternative or even specialized counsel or solicitors if necessary. See also Commentaries [3](e) and [6](b) set out under rule 3.1-2 of the Code.

9 Regulation 8.3.2 permits the Council of the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society to from time-to-time prescribe mandatory and educational requirements. In each of the Society’s fiscal years (July 1 – June 30), members are required to undertake a total of 12 hours of mandatory (or compulsory) professional development and education (CPD). The Society’s approach to CPD has been very liberal and there are ample programs available to Members to ensure that their 12 hour requirement can be met. For additional information, see also the Professional Development drop-down menu under the heading 'Lawyers' on the Society’s website.
10 See Commentary [2] set out under rule 3.1-2 of the Code. In analysing a lawyer’s competence, the following factors, without limitation, will be considered: the complexity and specialized nature of the client’s matter, the lawyer’s general experience, the lawyer’s training and experience in matters consistent with the complexity and specialized nature of the client’s matter, the preparation and study the lawyer is able to give the client’s matter and 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.

11 See footnote 7 (supra).

12 Frequent complaints made about lawyers relate to their alleged failures to respond to their clients’ inquiries. In many cases, the degree to which a lawyer will keep her of his client informed is a “judgment call” of the type for which a lawyer’s decisions may be afforded deference. The reason is that a client might fail to consider the necessity of their inquiries, their impact on their lawyer’s time and other clients and matters and the extent to which unnecessary inquiry and engagement can serve to increase legal costs. By the same token, a lawyer must appreciate that many clients are engaged in the legal process only rarely and that their circumstances are often of grave concern to them. For a discussion on the subject, see: McInnes Cooper v. Slaunwhite, 2004 NSSM 32 (CanLII), commencing at paragraph 214.
13 See Commentary [5] set out under rule 3.2-1 and Commentary [10] set out under rule 3.1-2 of the Code. The latter Commentary warns lawyers to be wary of bold and perhaps overconfident predictions on the outcome of any given matter. 

14 See Commentaries [3], [4] and [5] set out under rule 3.1-2 of the Code.

15 See rule 3.2-2 of the Code and in particular, Commentary [2] which states that “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.” Advice to a client must be “open and undisguised” and must clearly disclose what the lawyer honestly thinks about the merits and probable results of any possible course of action. A lawyer must be prepared to be firm with their clients, especially when they may disagree with the client’s perspective or objective and especially where the client indicates her or his own intention to proceed without candour. A lawyer’s advice to a client must be objective and capable of withstanding professional scrutiny even if it does not align with the client’s stated objectives.

16 When a lawyer’s client is an organization, the lawyer’s duty is to the organization regardless of the interests of the person instructing the lawyer (officer, director, manager). See rule 3.2-3 of the Code and in particular, Commentaries [1] and [2].

17 This requirement does not prohibit a lawyer from responding to a client’s instructions so long as those instructions do not oblige the lawyer to engage in services which are illegal or unethical or in professional bad taste. 

Additional Resources

Memorandum to Council - Client Service Standard Gavin Giles, November 22, 2013

Practice Notes

Any client/lawyer relationship combines communication, accessibility, accountability, responsibility and respect with the seminal requirement for timely legal work of the highest quality. Clients take these professional imperatives seriously. A lawyer must also take them seriously. Without these professional imperatives, the basic lawyer/client relationship will fail.


A lawyer offers her or his greatest value through words. Not just the words which comprise legal documents but those by which a lawyer communicate our understanding of our clients’ affairs and their expectations relative to our services. A lawyer must listen to their clients carefully and respond to them fully.

In the so-called “information age”, a lawyer may wish to consider carrying a BlackBerry, iPhone, other mobile telephone or similar device to receive clients’ calls, text messages or email messages. Though there is no reasonable expectation that a lawyer should be available to respond to inquiries at all time and at all hours, efforts should be made to alert clients and potential clients to longer periods of absence and to means and methods by which legal information and services can be available through alternative means at such times.  
Voice mail is an important technological tool which clients often see as a means of substantive communication with their lawyer. It is therefore important for a lawyer to use voice-mail appropriately. Ensuring it is updated regularly and responding to client voice messages in a timely manner is required. Many law firms, knowing how reliant their practices are on voice-mail, have adopted a specific client service standard along the following lines:

     We will frequently, if not daily, up-date our voice-mail greetings and automatic e-mail out of office announcements to advise our clients generally of where we are and when they might be able to hear back from us

     When absent from our offices for any period longer than ________ hours, we will leave information available to our clients by which they can access any required legal services which cannot wait until we return

     To the extent possible, we ensure that our clients have more than one contact or point for communication within ________ so that the legal services they might require at any given time can be accessed from more than one source

     To the extent reasonably possible will endeavour to return our clients’ calls and respond to their e-mail messages and correspondence on the same business day that they are received


Client service means, as an axiom, client accessibility. Lawyers are not the only members of our society who are facing time pressures. Many of our clients have numerous time pressures of their own. If we, as lawyers, add to those time pressures, they, as our clients, might well seek their legal services elsewhere. A lawyer’s aim must therefore be her or his reasonable accessibility, not only during the working day but when matters arise in an emergency or simply “after hours”.

Though it is not necessary to be available 24/7 – and no client service standards set out availability which is virtually 24/7 – there is no question that research shows that clients want to be in communication with their lawyers. Those lawyers who are attentive and respond to client communications outside of normal business hours have been demonstrated by the research to simply get more business.

It is on that basis that many law firms have adopted a specific client service standard along the following lines:

     We will provide our clients with our full co-ordinates on request – be they direct telephone, home telephone, cellular telephone or e-mail address. We will encourage our clients to access us through these means when their needs arise

     We will be punctual for our meetings with our clients. If we are going to be late, we will advise as far advance as is reasonably possible

     We will respect our clients’ time and their other commitments. When we meet – other than in social settings – we will be prepared, succinct and to the point. When in meeting with clients our telephones, cellular telephones and Blackberries or similar devices will be “on hold” except where unavoidable

     We will introduce our clients to other A lawyer and staff members within the firm who work or may be called upon to work on their matters or transactions. We will encourage our clients to access their requirements for legal services through any of these other A lawyer and staff members as appropriate


Legal services can be expensive. In certain circumstances, legal proceedings and transactions involving lawyers are stressful. A lawyer must thus always remain accountable to their clients. Informing a client up front about reasonable expectations and limitations is an important relationship-building technique.

This view is expressed in the following client service standard which has been adopted with some variation(s) by many firms:
     We will respond quickly to our clients’ requirements for legal services as soon as our conflicts checks and retainer agreements have been completed

     We will assign only the lawyer(s) and staff member(s) necessary to the fulfillment of our clients’ objectives

     We will discuss with our clients, in advance, the possible creation of a service team should a client’s requirements be such that they cannot be provided by a single lawyer

     We will provide our clients with a clear understanding of how we will charge them for the legal services we provide

     We will provide our clients, upon request, with a comprehensive and accurate estimate of the cost of the legal services they require

     We will manage our clients’ expectations through a clear understanding of their circumstances and a fulsome articulation of the laws, legal principles and procedures affecting those circumstances

     We will provide periodic status updates on all matters and transactions17


As lawyers, we ought to be aware that our clients are responsible for the careful management of their businesses, organizations and personal affairs. They are required to meet production deadlines, deliver their own high standards, meet payrolls and other budgetary objectives and respond positively to myriad regulatory provisions. On the personal side, they must ensure that their property is secure, their rights are protected and that their affairs are structured so as to maximize personal return, eliminate or reduce risk or put effect to their wishes. They thus require lawyers who are just as responsible and will regard their clients’ affairs as extensions of their own.

Reflecting that reality, many firms have adopted the following client service standards. 

.    We will work to provide our clients with the highest standard of legal services

     We will keep our lines of communication with our clients open through whatever reasonable means there are

     We will meet or exceed applicable deadlines or will advise our clients in advance with as much warning as possible that deadlines will be missed

     We will refrain from discussing our clients’ affairs in public or in any circumstance in which we might be overheard17

     We will appear and dress appropriately when meeting with our clients or others with respect to our clients' affairs17

     We will encourage our clients to report their complaints or concerns over our services to them directly to us or to our management and we will respond promptly to our clients' complaints or concerns about our delivery of their services and we will advise of clients of the remedial action(s) we have taken

     We will seek to address, through appropriate channels, concerns expressed by our clients that we may have erred in providing our legal advice and services17

     We will regularly seek our clients’ input on how well we are serving them and how we might serve them better

     We will continually self-assess our skills and our level of client service, seek to improve them and, if necessary to that end, attend for professional development

     We will constantly monitor our lawyer and staff compliment to determine, as early as possible, if alternative client service relationships will have to be conceived and implemented for any client

     We will work, in such circumstances, with affected clients to ensure the easy and seamless transition of their matters to another lawyer and staff members

     We will consistently back-up all of our electronic data bases and electronic file storage in secure facilities

     We will maintain an up-to-date disaster management plan which is designed to support the continuation of our services to our clients regardless of the prevailing circumstances


Many clients are interested in their lawyer’s firm’s dynamics, the extent to which their lawyers are involved in their communities and how their lawyers demonstrate community leadership as well as the legal services they require.

In particular, more and more clients are asking about their lawyers’ diversity practices and policies, their lawyers’ pro bono work and their lawyers’ work within the community (church, the arts, the charities, and politics). It is for that reason that many firms are now publishing client service standards which are reflective of more than just legal services.  

Consider, for example, the following:

The standards set out above apply, mutatis mutandis [with the necessary modifications], to the relationships which each of have with our colleagues and co-workers

     We are committed to a collegial workplace in which all individuals are accorded the same respect and dignity

     We treat our colleagues and co-workers, regardless of their seniority or position, in the manner in which we, ourselves, wish to be treated

     We respond to our colleagues’ and co-workers’ inquiries as if they were inquires from our clients or about our clients affairs

     We seek to participate in the life of the communities around us in manners which reflect our clients’ ideals and commitments

Approved by Council on November 22, 2013