Tag Archives: lawyer

The Roles and Responsibilities of Client and Lawyer

handshake3An effective lawyer-client relationship is based on mutual trust and respect. To have this trust and respect, both client and lawyer need to understand each other’s roles and responsibilities.  These roles are very different, but the are complementary to each other.  Here is how we see it at Patriot Law.


The client’s role and responsibilities

The client is the person who makes the important decision that he or she requires a lawyer for some reason.  The client hires the lawyer and gives the lawyer his or her instructions.  For example, the lawyer may be hired (or, as lawyers sometimes say, “retained”) to represent the client in a real estate transaction as buyer or seller, or a court case, or preparing a Will.

The client’s role is to make all of the important decisions in a legal matter.  For example, it is the client’s role to:

  • decide whether to enter into a contract (or to breach a contract, for that matter);
  • decide who to name as executor of the client’s Will;
  • decide whether to commence divorce proceedings;
  • decide whether to start a lawsuit, or defend against a lawsuit in which the client is named as a defendant; and
  • decide whether to settle a lawsuit, and on what terms.

In working with a lawyer, the client is responsible to do two major things:

  • make the key decisions (such as those noted above) when required; and
  • provide the lawyer with the information (and records) necessary to understand the facts applicable to the legal matter.

The lawyer’s role and responsibilities

The lawyer brings to the table legal knowledge and expertise that the client does not have have.

The lawyer’s role is to provide the client with two main things:

  • Advice as to what law applies to the factual situation that the client brings forward, how that law applies to the client’s facts and what client should do to address the legal issue or problem; and
  • If the client requests it, representing the client by taking certain actions on the client’s behalf.  This may be representing the client in a court case, where the lawyer literally speaks on behalf of the client to the Judge.  It can also mean taking a client’s wishes for how to deal with his or her estate and putting it on paper in a Will that will ensure that the client’s intent is achieved.

In working with a client, the lawyer is responsible for many things, including:

  • being knowledgeable about the law (in the areas in which the lawyer practices, of course);
  • being thorough and analytical in applying the law to the client’s factual situation;
  • being practical is making recommendations on courses of action and the consequences of those courses of action; and
  • being ethical and civil in dealing with the client as well as others such as an opposing party, the court and the public in general.

Synergy between lawyer and client

More than anything else, the key to having an effective relationship is for both lawyer and client to realize that their relationship is dynamic and requires open, effective and honest communication,  The lawyer cannot do his or her best job unless the client is forthcoming about the facts, even if they may be unpleasant or embarrassing.  On the other hand, the lawyer must help the client to understand what kinds of information or facts are important in a given case.

The best client-lawyer relationships are characterized by very effective communication. This creates the best conditions in which mutual trust and respect develop and are maintained.

There are limits on what a client can require a lawyer to do.  This will be the topic of a future blog post.

Legal writing vs. Legalese

You don’t have to look too far to find “legalese” in your life. Look at your mobile phone bill or your iTunes terms of use or the so-called bumper-to-bumper warranty on your car. We really aren’t fans of it, either.

The thing is that not all legal writing is really legalese. Every profession and every industry has its own terminology, jargon and pet phrases. The legal profession is no different. For example, I had never heard or read the word “sedulously” until I went to law school (I  am yet to use it in speech or writing, but I bet it would kill in Scrabble).

Some of the terms we use have a very specific and clear meaning, even though the term may be completely unfamiliar to non-lawyers. For example, in a will, a “per stirpes distribution” has a clear and definite meaning that can save the lawyer from having to write a paragraph of explanation. The problem is that most people need that term explained and this is why we generally prefer the plain language version, even if it takes a little longer to say or write. (Incidentally, our support staff get the double-whammy of hearing both legal jargon and military slang – including the odd bit of jackspeak).

Aside from obscure terms, another complaint about legal writing is that it’s just too wordy. We learned in law school that lawyers are professionally descended from scribes, who were paid by the word. (I assure you that this is no longer the case.) This payment scheme explains how redundancies like “null and void” and “cease and desist” came about.

However, not every long-winded document is chock-full of filler words. We often see real estate deals or separation agreements written from scratch or filled in from a Mad Libs-like online form. The people that bring these in are often surprised to find out that their nice, short document does not do what they want it to do (or may be entirely unenforceable) because certain provisions are missing.  A comprehensively written document, while a bit of a long read, can go a long way to properly identify and protect your rights.

At Patriot Law Group, we are big on clarity. We want to do more for our clients than just deliver a fair result; we want our clients to understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, so they will understand what they’re signing and why. This is one of the reasons we prepare plans for our clients and it’s a big reason why we write in plain language as often as possible.

If I had to sum up my thinking on legal writing in two words, I would say, “eschew obfuscation.”

What is a “Commissioner for Oaths”, anyway?

People often come to us at Patriot Law Group asking that we “commission” documents for them. This usually means they need someone to administer an oath to properly execute the document (although sometimes they really need the services of a Notary Public). Certain documents require more than just a signature to verify that the contents of the document are true. The person who is signing the document must somehow indicate that what they have signed is true and accurate. For example, an affidavit to be filed in court must be given under oath or by affirmation.  A declaration of common law status to Canada Revenue Agency is made as a solemn declaration. A Commissioner for Oaths is a person who is authorized to administer oaths, affirmations, and solemn declarations.

In Alberta, the appointment of Commissioners for Oaths is governed by the provincial Commissioners for Oaths Act.

Members of certain professions are empowered to be Commissioners for Oaths by virtue of their status as a professional. Members of the Law Society of Alberta (lawyers, students-at-law) judges, police officers, Notaries, commissioned officers of the Canadian Armed Forces (who serve full-time), municipal councilors, school board trustees, provincial MLAs, Members of Parliament from Alberta and members of the Senate who live in Alberta are all empowered as Commissioners for Oaths in Alberta and can administer oaths. Their “commission” remains in effect as long as they remain an active member of their profession or in their positions.

People outside of these occupations can be appointed a Commissioner of Oaths by the government but their commissions expire after three years unless they are renewed.  Many support staff members at law offices, insurance brokers and municipal offices have this type of Commissioner.

It is important to remember that a Commissioner for Oaths in Alberta can only administer oaths for documents to be used within Alberta. If a document is going to be used outside of Alberta or sworn by a person who resides outside of Alberta, the person signing will generally need the services of a Notary Public.

It is also important to understand that a Commissioner for Oaths is only empowered to administer an oath, affirmation or solemn declaration. You need a Notary Public to get notarized copies of documents and you still need a lawyer for legal advice.

Acting as Commissioners for Oaths is just one small part of what we do at Patriot Law Group.

What is a “Notary” and why do I need one?

We frequently have inquiries from people about needing a “Notary”.  People are often unsure about what exactly a Notary is and what a Notary does.

The official title for a Notary is “Notary Public.”    In Alberta, the Notaries Public Act is the statute the confirms how Notaries may be appointed.  It also confirms what people are automatically Notaries by virtue of their profession or position.

In Alberta, a person may apply to be appointed as a Notary Public.  The application has to be approved by the government.

However, the following persons are automatically Notaries by virtue of their profession or position:

  1. All practicing lawyers and all students-at-law;
  2. All judges of the Provincial Court of Alberta, all justices of the Court of Queen’s Bench and Court of Appeal of Alberta, and all masters in chambers of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta;
  3.  All Members of Parliament from Alberta;
  4. All Members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta; and
  5. All Senators who, at the time of appointment, were resident in Alberta.

So, what can a Notary Public do? The most common tasks for Notaries in Alberta involve administering oaths and taking affidavits or declarations, and making notarial copies of documents (usually so that a copy of the document may be used for some official purpose in place of the original).  In addition, persons in Alberta who sign Personal Guarantees (basically, guaranteeing the repayment of a debt for a third-party) are required to appear before a Notary Public to seek a certification from the Notary that confirms that the person granting the Personal Guarantee understands the significant obligations involved.

There is more to the task of being a Notary than simply signing documents and affixing a notarial seal.  Before “notarizing” a document, Notaries must (among other things):

  1. take steps to confirm the identity of persons seeking their services,
  2. ensure proper protocol is adhered to in the administration of oaths and declarations, and
  3. take steps to confirm the validity of any original documentation for which a notarial copy is requested.

These steps are extremely important since the signature and seal of a Notary Public will be relied upon for many official and important purposes.

Of course, we provide the full range of Notary Public services at Patriot Law Group.

What’s in a name: how lawyers describe themselves

barristerLawyers describe themselves to other lawyers, to clients and to members of the public in several different ways.  The terms used mean different things.  Here is a very short description of the most common of these terms and what they mean:

  1. Lawyer.  This is pretty clear.  This means that the person is a member of a provincial law society in good standing.
  2. Barrister and Solicitor.  This terminology is very common, and it is how we describe ourselves at Patriot Law Group.  It has its origin in the British system of classifying lawyers according to their role in the legal system.  Traditionally, a Barrister is a lawyer who represents clients in court.  Think of the lawyer in black robes and (in the U.K. anyways) wearing a white horsehair wig.  A solicitor is a lawyer who primarily does legal paperwork (for example, drafting contracts or Wills), and does not appear in court.  In all provinces of Canada (except Quebec, which uses a different approach linked to their different legal heritage) all lawyers are both Barristers and Solicitors.  Some lawyers do describe themselves as only “Barristers” or only “Solicitors” in order to make it clear (primarily to others in the legal community) that they restrict their practices to one or the other area.
  3.  Counsel.  This term is often used by lawyers to describe their role or function with respect to clients.  They pitch themselves as providing wise counsel.  Variations of this include “General Counsel” (a term used to describe the most senior lawyer employed within a business corporation as an “in-house” lawyer) and “Of Counsel” (used to describe a lawyer who has a connection to a law firm, but not as a partner or associate).
  4. Legal Adviser.  This description is not as frequently seen, but it is also used to describe the role or function of the lawyer.  It is a more modern alternative to “Counsel”.
  5. Attorney.  This is rarely used in Canada, although it may be the most well-recognized term of all due to its widespread use in the United States.  It is simply a description of a person who is a licensed and practicing lawyer.  We don’t use it in Canada very much because the word “Attorney” has a different and specific meaning here:  a person who exercises legal authority for another under a Power of Attorney.
  6. Partner.  A lawyer who is a partner has an ownership stake in his or her law firm.  This is more common in large firms, where equity in the business is used a part of a senior lawyer’s compensation package.  A “partner” is typically an experienced and senior lawyer.
  7. Associate.  This is also sometimes seen as “Associate Lawyer”.  This term also relates to the status of a lawyer within a law firm.  An Associate is a lawyer who is an employee of the law firm, generally a more junior lawyer without an ownership stake.

There you have it.  Now when you meet a lawyer, you can accurately gauge his or her sense of self-importance.

Why be a Small Town Lawyer? Top 8 Reasons

Michelle GI am frequently asked why I choose to practice law in a small town. I am not sure why this is such a common question. It may be that many people associate lawyers with big cities, large office towers, or proximity to a Courthouse. I suppose that it is also true that movies and television series involving lawyers are usually focused on “big city law.”
There is no one single reason why I love practicing law in a small town; there are many. While not an exhaustive list, here are my “Top 8” reasons (in no particular order) why it is great to practice law in a small town:

  1. Sense of Community. Our small town of Onoway has about 1,000 residents. It may be small, but it has a great sense of community. I love that everyone knows the Mayor and Councillors, there is great civic pride, and there are innumerable groups all working together to make the community a better place. It is also true that everybody really does “know your name.”
  2. Variety of Work. As a general practitioner in a small town, I have the pleasure of assisting a wide range of clients (individuals, small businesses, corporations) with a wide range of legal issues. This means my work is constantly changing and always interesting. You never know what kind of case will walk through the door, and you look forward to every new challenge.
  3. Small Office Environment. It is great to be your own boss and work with a close-knit group of people. I look forward every day to working with the other two lawyers in the office (Ed and Brian) and our support staff (Delphine, Amanda, and Brittany). We have a great team, enjoy our work, and enjoy each other.
  4. No Traffic. This may seem like a small thing but it is not. In my drive to and from work, I do not have to deal with a single traffic light, and only 3 stop signs. The drive to and from work is relaxing and scenic. No road rage!
  5. Small Business. Small businesses are a huge portion of the overall Canadian economy. I take pride in being a local employer and a contributor to the local economy.
  6. Dress Code. I don’t have to wear the women’s equivalent of the three-piece suit to work (unless I am going to Court). Our dress code is “professional, but approachable.” Life is more comfortable when you are not in a three-piece suit!
  7. Office Space. Our office is large and spacious. Almost all of us have “corner offices.” We have flowers out front. It is nice not to be in a “cubicle” in a downtown office tower.
  8. Distance from the Courthouse. It is sometimes necessary for me to appear in Court. However, the distance from the Court is one small factor that reminds me that all efforts to negotiate a resolution to a conflict should be taken before a matter needs to be resolved in Court.

Posted by Michelle Gallagher

Lawyer or Student-at-Law or Law Student or What?



We’re going to be joined today by Brian Jalonen, our Student-at-Law.”

This has been the standard introduction to each client of Patriot Law Group that I have met over the past year as a “student-at-law”. He looks old for a student, I imagine the client thinks. Old for a student, yet he appears wise and capable, I hope the client thinks. And ruggedly handsome.

More likely, the client thinks something like, What’s a student-at-law? Why not just say “law student”?

A “law student” is still a student at law school, such as the University of Alberta Faculty of Law. Before they will admit a new student, most law schools require the student to have completed an undergraduate degree and to have earned high marks on the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) relative to his or her peers. Law school is where a student learns the academic basics of Canadian law and develops the analytical mindset necessary to approach legal issues. It is also where the law student amasses crippling student debt. A law student has no professional standing within the legal profession. A law student cannot provide legal advice.

A “student-at-law” is a defined term within the Rules of the Law Society of Alberta (the “LSA”), which is the legal profession’s governing body in Alberta. After a law student graduates, he or she can apply to be admitted into the LSA as a “student-at-law”. A student-at-law is admitted into the LSA as part of the year-long apprenticeship period or “articles”, where he or she learns the practical application of his or her legal education by working in a law firm under the direct supervision of a senior lawyer. It is also where the student-at law learns to use the photocopier and coffee maker and subsequently questions the series of decisions that brought him or her to such a low station in life. A student-at-law has professional standing within the legal profession and is authorized to provide a broad array of legal services that are specified in the LSA’s Rules. A student-at-law has a complete legal education, often has limited experience (both in law and life), but can provide some legal advice.

After the articling year is completed, the student-at-law can then apply to the Court to be admitted into the LSA as a lawyer. The ceremony for admission to the LSA as a lawyer is known as being “called to the bar.” After being “called”, the new lawyer is entitled to provide the full range of legal services described in the LSA’s Rules. It is also when the new lawyer starts peppering his or her speech with Latin phrases, ad nauseam.  An experienced lawyer has a complete legal education, can train new lawyers and can provide comprehensive legal advice.

In short, a law student is just a university student and a student-at-law is a lawyer in training. So when you need a lawyer, get a lawyer.

Posted by Brian