Solicitor-client relationship: When does it start?

December 23, 2008

looselips1Congratulations.

You’re just finished your initial meeting with a franchise lawyer. You chose the baddest ass, most franchisee-friendly sob you could find. He was “kind” enough to give you 30 minutes of his time and you told him your whole story. The great man asked a few questions (actually a fair number about your net worth) but alas…unless you can rally another 9 other losers: Too bad, so sad; you’re shit out of luck.

Great bed side manner…regret to inform how weak the law is…best to put this all behind you (my most favouritest thought-terminating cliche).

You’ve just shot your mouth off to an industry insider that may very well use that information against your best interests. What?

I’ll explain with a real-life example.

1. Seven distributors walk into the most “pre-eminent” CDN franchisee lawyer’s office and tell him their story. His response: No case here go bankrupt. No if ands or buts: Do not pass Go…

2. The Group of Seven wants a second opinion. They call to me, I meet the group at their home and talk to a then-independent 2nd lawyer (just new into franchisiing but quite keen). We conclude: Excellent case. U.S. franchisor was too lazy to give disclosure documents after the Arthur Wishart Act (Franchise Disclosure) was passed in 2000. These are franchisees not distributors and therefore they can rescind their contract, dissolve their relationship and get their money back. Easy peasy.

  1. One set of case facts PLUS
  2. one Ontario law EQUALS
  3. 2 irreconcilably, diametrically opposed legal opinions?

How is this possible? Simple it has to do with duty and the timing of when a solicitor/client relationship is formed.

Fiduciary Duty: I am not a lawyer and the Upper Canada Law Society website wasn’t much help so here is a definition from the Canadian Encyclopedia.

The legal system recognizes a multitude of special relationships in which one party is required to look after the best interests of the other in an exemplary manner. These relationships, which include solicitor/client, physician/patient, priest/parishioner, parent/child, partner/partner, director/corporation and principle/agent, are called fiduciary relationships.

Fiduciary relationships entail trust and confidence and require that fiduciaries act honestly, in good faith, and strictly in the best interests of the beneficiaries of such relationships.

Solicitor/client Relationship: This relationship ONLY starts when you formally enter into a contract for legal services. The signs are when you cut the cheque for a retainer, sign an agreement, etc.

Anything that you say to a lawyer before you are his client (when you or the relationship is consummated) does not have this legal protection (ie. the information you provide can, and in franchising is, be used against your interests).

This is how an internationally known franchise lawyer can give you knowingly false advice at the first meeting:

There is no legal duty for him to do so because the solicitor/client relationship has NOT been created yet (before contract for legal services started).

But why turn away work? The franchisees were steered away from defending themselves because there were (and still are) literally hundreds of franchise systems in Ontario that are ignoring the Wishart Act. These are called accidental or unintentional franchises (true franchisors who don’t want to bother with some stupid provincial law) .

The first lawyer knew that by exposing the Group of Seven’s franchisor  in public (ie. in Superior Court) he would be very unpopular at the next franchisor-only national trade association golf tournament. (Please don’t tell anyone but this is why this organization [ie.] has an Ombudsman program [ie.]: To have you come in and be convinced you have no case. Skim off the biggest floaters. That’s why the banks are the biggest sponsors based on the theory that they have the most damaging facts to conceal, like, Predatory franchise lending.)

  • It would be bad form for the franchise law expert to showing the other 32,000 Ontario lawyers (the unwashed masses: 99.9% of the province’s lawyers who are not in the cabal) where the juicy billable hours are.
  • Let alone the risk of dozens of copy cat lawsuits against franchisors, banks, sales agents, lawyers, etc.
  • And the inconvenient lawsuit against the franchisor’s lawyer for contempt of a provincial law that he is, as an Officer of the Cour, duty-bound to respect (should have dropped his masquerading client if they refused to self-identify accurately).
  • This would not do when the franchise bar pays so lucratively when run as a credence good monopoly (see Winand Emons, Credence Goods: The Monopoly Case).

hermanngoeringWhen you hear these words together: You should use an expert franchise lawyer

…you should “reach for your gun

(Hermann Goering’s advice when you hear the word culture).

Yes you should trust your lawyer. But you should qualify him or her first. Trust but verify is a very good idea.

Since being a lawyer means having to survive in business to practice another day, you should determine where the vast bulk of his future earnings are coming from (franchisee, franchisor or non-franchised commercial law).

  • Based strictly on economics (95% of legal services paid for by franchisors and friends and credence good cheaters who are run as a monopoly), a franchise expert lawyer should be the last person a franchisee talks to.

I always say talk to a 60-year old regional commercial lawyer with his name on the building. Anyone else is more than likely to torpedo your perfectly watertight case.

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