Short-term limited legal services: New rule in Code of Professional Conduct

In October 2013, the Federation of Law Societies’ Standing Committee on the Model Code of Professional Conduct sought feedback from all law societies on a number of proposed amendments to the Code. One of those amendments relates to the provision of short-term limited legal services. 

Short-term limited legal services are defined in rule 3.4-2A as advice or representation of a summary nature provided to a client under the auspices of a pro bono or not-for-profit legal services provider. This definition of short-term limited legal services is meant to be broad enough to include a wide range of non-for-profit providers, including Legal Aid duty counsel.

The goal of these proposed new rules is to remove impediments to the provision of short-term limited legal services. The Standing Committee drafted the rules to increase public access to summary advice services. The new rules are intended to remove the obligation for lawyers providing short-term limited legal services to perform full conflicts checks. To ensure the client is aware of the limitations of short-term limited legal services, the new rules require that the lawyer disclose to the client the limited nature of the services provided and determine whether any additional legal services may be required or are advisable (Commentary [7B] to rule 3.1-2). 

Nova Scotia’s Code of Professional Conduct Committee (CPCC) reviewed this and other proposed draft amendments to the rules at its meeting in January 2014 and advised the Standing Committee in March 2014 that it was generally in favour of the amendments. The feedback received from all jurisdictions resulted in further changes, with final approval of the new rules and amendments by Federation Council in October 2014.

The CPCC reviewed the final version of the rules related to short-term limited legal services, which includes the new Commentary [7B] to rule 3.1-2 and the addition of new rules 3.4-2A through 3.4-2D and Commentaries [1] through [5] , at its meeting on January 16, 2015.  These amendments were referred to Council, and on January 23, 2015 were adopted for inclusion in Nova Scotia’s Code of Professional Conduct

The new rules 3.4-2B and 3.4-2C address potential conflicts in providing short-term limited legal services, and confirm that a lawyer is not required to conduct a conflicts check before providing short-term legal services, but must not provide short-term legal services when the lawyer actually knows or becomes aware of a conflict. 

Rule 3.4-2D confirms that a lawyer who has provided short-term summary legal services must ensure no disclosure of confidential information to other members of the lawyer’s firm. Commentary [3] confirms that knowledge gathered through the provision of such services will not be imputed to other members of the lawyer’s firm. 

A new pro bono legal clinic has been designed and is expected to begin offering services at The Law Courts in Halifax in early February 2015. The work of clinics such as this will benefit from these rule changes, which are viewed as an important step for improving the public’s access to justice. When reviewing these amendments, Council indicated its hope that all those involved in the administration of justice, including the Courts, will support the continued work of such organizations.