October 31, 2010

Sexual Misconduct Series: Lawyers and clients waiving conflicts arising from sexual relations

Administrative Law
Professional Regulation

A sexual relationship between a lawyer and client, but a waiver of the resulting conflict of interest by that client, is illustrated in Regular v. Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador [2010 NLTD 90, May 13, 2010], a case where a lawyer, acting for a client in a peace bond application, entered into a personal relationship with her. They then continued their relationship for fifteen years, during which period the lawyer acted for the client in other matters, including a divorce.

The Code did not specifically prohibit lawyers from having sexual relations with clients, but a breach could arise in certain circumstances. The lawyer engaged in misconduct by initiating a sexual relation­ship due to the client’s vulnerability at the time. When the client subsequently retained the lawyer for her divorce, the adjudicative panel concluded against the client waiving the conflict of interest, but the court found the latter finding to be unreasonable; the client had full knowledge of her rights and unequivocally and intentionally abandoned them by insisting that the lawyer act for her.

Regular v. Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2010 NLTD 90 (May 13, 2010)