“Can Lawyers Have Tattoos?” And Other Conduct Conundrums
Due to the pandemic, the past few years has seen a loosening of formality in virtually every part of society – lawyers and judges included. Notably, the rise of the Zoom trial has brought with it tales of mischief and mayhem: Sombre legal proceedings attended by pants-less participants, or else interrupted by pets wandering across the background.
But the law, perhaps more than most areas, keeps a rigid adherence to rules, protocols, and decorum. And most of all, it scrupulously safeguards against situations which may give rise to a conflict of interest.
To keep lawyers in check, both the Canadian Bar Association, and its Ontario counterpart regularly offer practice tips and practice management advice. And there are also many articles written in lawyers’ magazines and online publications, that help members of the profession stay off the radar of the Law Society of Ontario’s disciplinary committee.
For something different, here’s a little round-up of some of the fun questions that sometimes arise around what lawyers can and cannot do:
- Can a lawyer represent his or her own child, on a file or in court? It depends. The governing principles were considered by the Ontario court a few years ago in a case called Judson v. Mitchele. The court noted there was no presumptive rule banning lawyers from acting for their own children, nor any presumptive conflict of interest inherent in this kind of arrangement. But it can only be allowed where the interests of justice are fully served. There must be a balancing of competing factors, which include the right to retain counsel of one’s own choice on the one hand, versus concerns about the administration of justice, on the other.
- What about a lawyer representing family members, friends, or romantic partners? Again, same answer: The Law Society’s Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers expressly prohibits any client representation scenario that gives rise to a conflict of interest. And the closer the relationship between the lawyer and the client, the more likely the concerns over objectivity and impartiality. So technically it is allowed, but it may not be a good idea.
- Can a lawyer have a tattoo or body piercings? Once again: A firm “maybe”. Certainly there is no “law” or even a Rule of Professional Conduct that expressly prohibits tattoos or piercings on a lawyer. A lawyer’s choice to express his or her own personal style through adornment certainly prevails – although it will be necessarily subject to any dress code or policy set by the lawyer’s own employer (be it a law firm or a corporate business). Discreet personal body jewelry or tattoos might be allowed in some law firm environments, but not in others. And from a practical standpoint, a lawyer’s individual appearance should ideally match the client’s own expectations of what a lawyer should look like, and should blend well with the law firm or office environment in which he or she practices law. This just makes good practical sense.
For links to the original articles, see:
- “Can a Lawyer Represent a Family Member”, By Zena Olijnyk.
- “Can Lawyers Represent Their Kids?”, by Law Time Magazine.
- “Fitting In Without Selling Out”, by James Careless.
In a related vein, see also:
- “Judge OKs lawyer’s representation of his own tenant”, by Canadian Lawyer Magazine.
And finally, for some illustrative cases in the Family Law realm, see: