How to choose the right lawyer (Part 3)
Most people have little direct contact with the criminal justice system. If you are being investigated or charged with a crime, you should seek experienced legal counsel to guide you through our judicial system. This is the final in a five-part series where I, as an Ottawa criminal lawyer, offer advice to people about lawyers and the clients they serve.
What relationship should you have with your lawyer?
I always have a friendly, professional relationship with my clients. If they retain me as their lawyer after a free consultation, they can call or text me to ask me questions at any point for no extra charge. Even after the case is over they can contact me. An example of when that might happen is if I was able to secure an agreement that would allow for no conviction if my client agrees to a peace bond. After that peace bond period has expired, the client might call and confirm their record is clear, which it would be if they abided by the terms of the bond.
While I am friendly with clients and will make every effort as their legal counsel to obtain the best judicial outcome, I am not their counsellor in terms of emotions. When we meet, I want to hear about the actions that led to the charge and I will work to achieve the best outcome. But I am not here to chit-chat or to dwell on the emotions they are feeling. I want to focus my efforts on achieving the best outcome possible in their case. This is a working relationship.
Cry to your family first, then call me
I once had someone call me on a statutory holiday during Christmas. She had been caught driving while intoxicated and was sure this mistake was going to ruin her life. She was understandably upset and was crying. I had to stop the conversation and tell her that I could defend her case, but I just need to know the facts. It is my job to represent the client in court. I’m not a grief counsellor.
Write down what happened
When I take on a new client I always ask them to write down the details of the events that led to the charge, while their memory is fresh. I always find it's important to get this information from clients. Having them provide me with a written record of their side of the story is extremely helpful, as I can then compare it to disclosure I receive from the Crown, which is based on the police report.
If a client does not provide these details, I will remind them, but I will not pester them. I cannot force clients to do this, though it may affect their defence later on. In the consultation, I tell them that if they do their part, it will help me do my work better.
If a client is ordered to make some restitution such as the repayment of funds, I will remind them once or twice. But I am not going to check in every month to make sure that payment has been made. Ultimately that is the client’s responsibility.
A relationship of trust
The lawyer/client relationship has to be one built on trust. The client has to be confident enough to tell the lawyer personal details. That is especially true with charges of a sexual nature, where the client has to talk about what led to the alleged incident.
Intimate details are often revealed in these talks. If the client is not comfortable with the lawyer, they may not bring out all the relevant information about the incident. That could hurt the client later if those facts are revealed at trial by the other side.
The gender of counsel can be a factor in this situation, as some people are more comfortable confiding in a female lawyer. Others prefer to talk to a male lawyer. Whatever the circumstance, clients should choose a lawyer they are comfortable with, as that person must understand what led to the charges. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to build a viable defence.
With youths, sometimes they say they will talk about what happened, but not if their parents are in the room at the time. Most parents understand that and will leave the youth with me to discuss the charge.
Don’t expect lawyers to lie for you
When dealing with a client facing a criminal charge, lawyers often do not ask, “Did you do it?” The answer to that question may radically affect what we do in trial. If a client admits they committed the crime but still wants to plead not guilty in court, that will put the lawyer in a difficult situation.
As the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) notes, lawyers shall not “knowingly attempt to deceive a tribunal or influence the course of justice by offering false evidence, misstating facts or law, presenting or relying upon a false or deceptive affidavit, suppressing what ought to be disclosed, or otherwise assisting in any fraud, crime, or illegal conduct."
Lawyers must behave honourably with clients
As officers of the court, lawyers must always be mindful of how dishonourable or questionable conduct in either their private life or professional practice could reflect adversely upon the integrity of the profession and the administration of justice.
As the LSO notes, “Public confidence in the administration of justice and in the legal profession may be eroded by a lawyer's irresponsible conduct. Accordingly, a lawyer's conduct should reflect favourably on the legal profession, inspire the confidence, respect and trust of clients and of the community, and avoid even the appearance of impropriety."
Call me for a free consultation
Anyone in the Ottawa area who is facing criminal charges can contact me for a free consultation, in French or English. I have more than a decade of experience helping clients achieve the best results possible, and I will work tirelessly on your behalf.