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 Hiring a lawyer

It’s 2 am on a Sunday morning and the phone rings. Do you answer it? If you do and it’s your boss calling you to tell you that he needs you to do something right away, do you do it? What if it’s a stranger calling you and they want to hire you for a job that needs to be done right away? What do you do? Most people would say, “Forget it. I’m not going to work this late!”

I found myself in this situation recently. My family threw a surprise birthday party for my sister April one Saturday evening at a local restaurant. It was a great success. Shortly after midnight my cell phone rang and since I was expecting a call I answered it. Instead of hearing a familiar voice, what greeted me was a lady who essentially wanted me to drop what I was doing so that I could go to a local hotel to prepare an “urgent promissory note” for her.

I can honestly say that in all the years that I have been practising law, I have never encountered such a request before. I am not a criminal law lawyer and although I practice immigration law, I don’t handle deportations – so the number of legitimate urgent calls I receive is usually very limited. And, the majority of the “urgent” calls I have received in the past during non-office hours are estate related.

As I took the call, red flags began to pop up in my head. First, I was asked to go to the potential client to prepare the document. Then, I was asked if they could come to my home so that I could prepare the document. Then, I was asked if they could come to wherever I currently was so that I could prepare the document. I must admit, that I did not feel at all comfortable with the call or the requests that were being made of me. One of the final requests made of me was if I could simply meet them so that I could at least witness or notarize the document. This final request made me suspicious that something was not right in this situation because their request went from drafting a promissory note to simply witnessing or notarizing a document. I also fail to see how a promissory note could be so urgent that it had to be signed and witnessed so early on a Sunday morning (or late Saturday night, which ever way you choose to look at it).

What is a lawyer’s duty or obligation to a potential client?

First of all, every lawyer has the right to choose his or her client. Just because someone wants to hire us doesn’t mean we have to accept the request. Just like any other professional or any other business, lawyers have the right to refuse service.

Secondly, legal documents that are properly prepared should not be rushed nor should they be written on the back of a tissue at some bar or hotel. It takes time to properly prepare legal documents and I know of absolutely no lawyer that walks around town carrying around with them all their legal precedents. Legal documents and precedents are properly stored at our law firms to protect our clients and their interests.

Thirdly, lawyers that are also notary publics have in their possession notarial seals that are used when witnessing or notarizing documents. However, I must tell you, these seals are heavy and I keep mine at the office. It’s not something that I carry around with me – especially on weekends when I’m attending a party.

Finally, the Law Society of Manitoba has recently sent out advisories to the legal profession warning them of fraudulent cases that have recently hit Manitoba. The amount of fraudulent cases that have hit the legal profession in Ontario has escalated to the point that new rules have been put in place to protect lawyers from getting targeted. In Ontario, lawyers need to follow strict guidelines to determine the identity of the individual before they can take them on as a client. It’s a measure that I’m sure most law societies across Canada are looking at.

In my opinion, when a potential client contacts a lawyer it’s similar to a two-way job interview. The lawyer is attempting to determine if they can assist the client, if the client has the ability to pay for their services, and if the client’s request is something that falls within their area of expertise. At the same time, the potential client is attempting to determine if the lawyer is competent, if the fee being quoted is reasonable and if they could trust this lawyer to handle their request. Sometimes, the end result is that both parties are in agreement and other times, they are not. If this is the case, it’s best for both parties that they do not enter into a professional relationship.

I don’t know what situation the lady who called me was in. She may have had a legitimate need for a lawyer. If she did, then I hope she was able to find someone who could assist her. However, I do not regret the decision that I made and I would make the same one if the situation presented itself again.

Think of it from my perspective. I’m enjoying the evening with my family and I get a very late call from someone I don’t know asking me to drop everything to perform a legal service that, in my mind, is questionable. I make no apologies for refusing to meet with strangers that late at night at some hotel or at my home. What would you do in that situation? Safety concerns aside, I don’t know anyone who would actually say yes in that situation.

There is a time and a place for everything. And, although there seems to be a misconception that lawyers work 24 hours a day, trust me when I say that even if it sometimes feels that way, we actually don’t. Every now and again, we do take some time off. Just like every other person in this world that works for a living, we simply want to be able to enjoy that time off without being “called back to the office.” Urgent matters or real emergencies – someone getting arrested, deported, or heaven forbid, someone is dying – those are real situations that warrant late night calls. Witnessing a document, in my opinion, does not fall within this category. If you don’t agree with me, then please feel free to call another lawyer.

Alona C. Mercado is a lawyer practicing in Winnipeg with the law firm of MONK GOODWIN LLP. She was called to the Manitoba Bar in 1999 and the Ontario Bar in 2003. Her preferred areas of practice include wills and estates, committees, real estate, business and commercial transactions, and immigration law. Alona can be reached at (204) 956-1060 ext. 233 or

The content of this article are not intended as legal advice and is for information purposes only. Should you require legal advice on a specific issue relating to the contents of this article, please seek the services of a legal professional. 

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