You have a dispute you just can’t solve. It’s been going on forever. Why are you on this merry go round? Stop wasting valuable time. If your neighbour absolutely refuses to see your point of view, it’s time for an objective third party to step in. Get ready to hire a mediator or arbitrator and protect your interests with independent legal advice.
Mediate First, Then Arbitrate
Typically, property or neighbourly disputes go to mediation first. That gives both parties a chance to work things out with the help of someone who has no investment in the outcome. It could stop there. The mediator drafts a contract for both of you to sign. You hire a lawyer or paralegal to review it. Savvy move: you get an independent legal opinion. Done!
Go to Arbitration in Ontario
Your ornery neighbour (and their spouse) just won’t quit arguing. Arbitration could be the last stop on a never-ending train wreck. So you hire an arbitrator. More money, but well worth it compared to a lengthy court battle. The arbitrator reviews the facts and makes a decision. Your neighbour and their husband suggest hiring a lawyer to review it before signing. You could save money by sharing a lawyer. Should you do it?
Conflicts of Interest for Lawyers
Probably not. Ontario lawyers and paralegals are bound by rules of professional conduct. They must recommend independent legal advice if there is any possibility of divided loyalties. Being able to competently advise you both is like treading water. It could work out, but then again…
Consenting to Conflicts of Interest
So your joint lawyer explained it’s a conflict of interest and asked if you consent to a shared opinion. You could do it, provided you know the risks you are taking. Tread carefully. Making an informed, genuine and uncoerced decision to pay a joint retainer is one thing. If your backyard adversary has more legal or financial know-how than you, it could be more trouble than it’s worth.
Using Their Family Lawyer
Your not-so-chummy neighbour has an old family lawyer they’ve used for years. More reason to proceed with caution. The lawyer is required by their code of conduct to tell you about their cosy relationship and recommend you get independent legal advice before agreeing to a joint retainer. Be wary if they don’t.
In Whose Interests?
That dispute’s solved. You move on and decide to buy a share in a condo in Puerto Vallarta. What a great way to escape Ajax in the summer! For $45,000 plus condo fees and taxes, you get 30 days at the beach every year for life. Your lawyer recommends it. Lovely place, he has a share himself. Stop right there.
A Lawyer’s Duty to Prevent Conflicts of Interest
Being swayed by a lawyer with an interest in a deal is a bright red flag. Lawyers and paralegals are prohibited from entering into transactions that are unfair or unreasonable without recommending independent legal advice. That includes:
- lending or borrowing money
- buying or selling property
- marketing services for profit
- giving or getting ownership in a company
- offering securities or other interests in a company
- advising you on investments (like the condo)
- or joining in a common business venture.
Even if your lawyer friend is not giving you a legal opinion, do you understand your long-term obligations? Do some checking of your own and ask a lawyer with no stake in the deal what they think. Final analysis: use your own lawyer to ink the deal.
When Independent Legal Advice is Mandatory
Getting an independent legal opinion can be mandatory. For example, when arbitrating a family law dispute. A lawyer working for your spouse can’t legally advise you as well. When you ask a lawyer for independent legal advice about going to family arbitration, it’s their duty to explain how arbitration works. They can help you decide if arbitration will fix the dispute. Having an independent legal opinion means you aren’t being forced or coerced into going ahead.
When it’s Independent Legal Advice
There is a difference. Independent legal advice comes from a lawyer or paralegal with no conflict of interest or association to you or anyone else involved, including other legal advisors. They give objective, unbiased legal advice on the decision you are facing. Their only task is helping you understand its nature and consequences. For example, your lawyer makes a mistake in a legal document. It could come back to bite you — bingo, conflict of interest. Their professional duty is to recommend you ask a second lawyer for advice.
When it’s Independent Legal Representation
In contrast, independent legal representation is hiring a lawyer on retainer to act on your behalf in a legal transaction. Anytime a lawyer may be in a conflict of interest, they must advise you to hire someone else to represent you. Your own lawyer will communicate with the lawyer to get the deal (your condo share) done. Now that’s better.
Get Independent Legal Advice in Ontario
Axess Law’s Ontario notary publics are lawyers who can discuss legal questions objectively. They notarize legal agreements to verify your signature is genuine. Dial 1-877-522-9377 or in Greater Toronto at 647-479-0118 or use our online booking form to make a virtual video call appointment. Notaries can meet with you in person at our Ottawa, Toronto, Scarborough, Vaughan, Etobicoke, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland law offices.
Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s notary public services.