Incivility: Practical Consequences for You and Your Client

Debate about lawyers’ incivility – whether it’s on the increase, whether it’s worthy of concern, how it should be handled – caught the attention of many of us in 2012. The subject continues to be discussed, and we can expect to hear more about it in the coming months and years.

But high-profile cases aside, when does a lawyer’s conduct cross the line into unprofessional conduct, and what are the costs and other implications?

These questions are answered in a paper by Daniel Naymark of Lax O’Sullivan Scott Lisus LLP and LAWPRO’s litigation unit director and counsel Jennifer Ip. It was presented at the Advocates’ Society’s 2012 Symposium on Civility and Professionalism.

This paper is a practical guide to lawyer behaviours that Canadian courts have deemed uncivil or unprofessional, and to the kinds of judicial sanction − of lawyers and their clients both – that those behaviours have attracted.

Follow this link to Naymark and Ip’s cautionary tale: “Judicial Sanction of Uncivil and Unprofessional Conduct.”


  1. Then there are the things a lawyer does behind closed doors. My advice to clients is to bring a trusted person as a witness to all visits and have some sort of electronic record of the appointment. If the lawyer objects, don’t hire him/her.

  2. Sharen S’s comment seems to be wanting to guard against incivility by the lawyer against the lawyer’s own client. Is this really a problem in practice? There is a risk of losing solicitor/client privilege if there is a non-party to a dispute or transaction in the room when legal advice is being given, so lawyers may have a good reason to want the non-party excluded some of the time.

  3. John,
    I doubt privilege is lost, in the ordinary course, merely because the client has another person with him or her (or a recording device). It’s still intended that the discussion be confidential.

    I suspect Ms. Skelly has in mind disputes between the client and lawyer as to what was said in the “he said, she said” situation. Her comment was also off-topic.

    In my experience, where there’s incivility between lawyer and client it’s because the client demands something be done that’s improper, or the lawyer won’t do even if it’s not improper, and the client becomes upset. As you no doubt know, many clients believe that, once a lawyer takes a retainer, the lawyer is required to do what the client wants, regardless. And do it how the client wants it done.

    Remarkably (despite what one sees and hears on TV) lawyers aren’t supposed to be their clients’ mouthpieces or sockpuppets.


  4. No Ms. Skelly is talking about complaints that would be taken seriously in other professions such as teaching and nursing. I am well aware of what a lawyer’s scope of practice is and what clients expect when they hire a lawyer. Incivility is just another word for inappropriate conduct.

    Most clients are educated and informed and don’t get their information from Judge Judy or the People’s Court (although I must say that they might get better results there). Give them credit, you might be surprised.

    My suggestion for recording devices is to ensure that documentation about appointments is accurate. If the lawyer has nothing to hide there should be no problem. If a problem arises during the relationship with one’s lawyer it is important to have these records. In the end, records will protect the lawyer too. So what is the harm?

    And yes, my comments don’t really refer to incivility in the court, because most clients experience incivility during appointments.