Role of Lawyer vs Legal Support Staff


At a recent CLE BC – Commercial Litigation for Junior Lawyers and Legal Support Staff seminar, Brad Martyniuk, presented a paper on the role of Lawyers versus non-lawyers within a law firm.

Andrea Ritchie, Articling Student, has extracted and summarized a few key points from Brad Martyniuk’s presentation.  This summary provides a legal client with the knowledge and information on how to work with the non-lawyers within a given law firm.

(To read the full legal presentation, use the link found at the bottom of the page).

Within a law firm, lawyers are fully responsible for all business entrusted to them. The support staff utilized by lawyers are an integral part of your legal experience. As a client, it is important to know who within the firm is responsible for what aspects of your case. Under the pending Code of Professional Conduct for BC, coming into effect January 2013, a lawyer may delegate tasks to non-lawyers (including paralegals and other support staff) as long as the training and experience of the non-lawyer is sufficient to protect the interests of you, the client. Meanwhile, your lawyer must always oversee the tasks they have assigned, and are required to exercise their professional legal judgment when necessary.

Specifically, non-lawyers may complete the following tasks:

  • Attend to routine administrative matters;
  • Draft routine correspondence and sign correspondence, if directed by the lawyer and if they disclose the fact they are a non-lawyer;
  • Draft documents, including pleadings;
  • Do filings (ex. with the Court Registry or Land Title Office);
  • Research legal questions and prepare memoranda;
  • Organize and prepare litigation documents;
  • Conduct routine negotiations with the client’s consent, and with results being approved by the lawyer before settled;
  • Collect information from clients, witnesses, and other sources.

However, non-lawyers may not:

  • Give legal advice or sign correspondence containing legal opinion;
  • Give/receive undertakings or trust conditions;
  • Appear in court;
  • Be named in association with a lawyer in any document submitted to the court;
  • Do anything a lawyer is not permitted to do;
  • Hold themselves out as a lawyer;
  • Take instructions from a client unless the client has been directed to do so by the lawyer, and the gathered instructions are relayed to the lawyer as soon as possible;
  • Issue statements of account.

Lawyers are bound by rules of confidentiality, requiring that all your information gathered through the professional relationship concerning your business and affairs must be held in strict confidence. Unless there is express or implicit authority by you to share the information, or the lawyer is required by law or the court to divulge the information, or is required to deliver the information to the Law Society, your lawyer is required to keep your information private. There is implied authority to share your information with non-lawyers involved in the professional relationship between you and your lawyer, and it is up to your lawyer to convey to the support staff the importance of keeping your information safe. This places a duty on your lawyer to ensure reasonable care is taken to prevent the disclosure of your private information. This duty extends beyond the term of the professional relationship and continues indefinitely. To read the full presentation.

Brad Martyniuk
Partner in General Litigation
Lindsay Kenney – Vancouver Office