Can A Lawyer Refuse A Client? (Victoria)

Can A Lawyer Refuse A Client?Ever wondered if a lawyer is allowed to refuse a client in the state of Victoria? The short answer is “yes”, lawyers can decline to work with a prospective client based on several factors such as ethical reasons, case complexity, time restrictions, conflict of interest and financial considerations.

Not every lawyer-client pairing is a good fit. And you can be rejected for various reasons. Fortunately, the legal landscape in Victoria has a vast array of private law firms as well as a free legal aid system, so no matter what type of legal problem you have, there's sure to be a law firm or legal aid provider that's a good fit to help you through your legal challenges.

This article will explore the reasons a criminal defence lawyer may decline a client and offer suggestions for securing the best representation.

A Lawyer Might Turn Down A Case For Any Of These Reasons

  1. Not A Good Fit: Perhaps the most common reason that a lawyer might turn down a case is that they simply don't feel they're a good fit to represent the potential client that they're talking to. The intricacies of a case can go beyond a lawyer's experience. For example, a criminal lawyer may not feel they have the technical knowledge to handle a high-profile cybercrime case.
  2. Conflict Of Interest: If a lawyer previously represented a firm or individual that a prospective client wants to sue, this past representation can create a conflict of interest which would prevent many lawyers, for ethical reasons from taking on the case.
  3. Financial Limitations: If a prospective client is very limited financially and doesn't have the money to invest in a good lawyer, then like any other professional the lawyer might consider not taking on the case.
  4. They Just Aren't Comfortable: A lawyer's ethical standpoint or personal discomfort with a case can influence their decision. For instance, some lawyers might not represent clients who appear to be dangerous career criminals because they simply aren't comfortable with helping those kinds of people. Similarly, cases involving breaches of the 'age of consent' laws might also lead some lawyers to refuse representation. They might find it ethically challenging to defend clients accused of engaging in paedophilia and decline to represent them on that basis.

The Cab-Rank Rule: Why Barristers Are Obliged To Accept Most Cases

While lawyers have the discretion to refuse clients based on various factors, barristers in Victoria operate under a different set of professional rules. Known as the 'cab-rank rule,' barristers are generally obliged to accept any brief in a field they profess to practice, provided they are available and the fee is appropriate. This rule ensures that even individuals involved in controversial or unpopular cases have access to legal representation. Understanding the difference between lawyers and barristers is crucial, especially when seeking legal representation in complex cases. It highlights the comprehensive nature of the legal system in ensuring fair access to justice for everyone, regardless of the case specifics

Ethical Rules Covering Lawyers' Duties in Victoria

In Victoria and New South Wales, lawyers are bound by strict code of ethical standards that are set out by the Legal Services Council. One of the most foundational rules is that every lawyer practising in Australia should at all times act with competence, diligence, and good faith. This means that a lawyer should only accept a case if they believe they have the necessary skills and expertise to represent the client adequately.

Aside from this, it's a lawyer's obligation to maintain confidentiality. Every piece of information shared by a client or prospective client should be kept confidential, regardless of its significance, unless legally mandated to disclose it, such as in situations of imminent harm.

Another core principle that governs the legal profession in Victoria is the rule on fees. Lawyers are not only expected to provide a clear fee structure but must also ensure that their charges remain fair and reasonable.

Conflict of interest remains one of the primary reasons a lawyer might refuse a case. Australian lawyers are trained to recognize potential conflicts and are required to avoid them to ensure unbiased representation. This could mean turning away a prospective client if the lawyer, or their firm, has previously represented another party involved in the same case, or if there's any relationship that might compromise the lawyer's objectivity.

Assessing Risk: Could You Be Refused Service?

Being refused service by a lawyer is entirely possible. Here are some common reasons:

  • Capacity & Urgency: Just like any professional, lawyers have limits. They might already be at capacity in terms of the number of cases they can effectively handle at the time that you reach out, leading to refusal.
  • Highly Specialized Case: If a case involves a complex or highly specialized area of law, there might be fewer lawyers equipped to handle it. In this case, the lawyer you contact will usually simply let you know that the case is outside of their area of expertise.
  • Intentions And Credibility: A lawyer will assess the ethical grounds of a case and the credibility of the client. Some lawyers may reject a client based on ethical concerns.
  • Financial Concerns: If a prospective client is unable to pay for the services of a private law firm, then the firm may not be willing to work with them.

It’s Not Always Ok For A Lawyer To Refuse To Work With A Client

Refusing to work with a client is usually at a lawyer’s discretion and permissible for many reasons. However, there are several questionable reasons for which a lawyer may refuse to work with you.

  • Discrimination: A lawyer is not allowed to refuse to work with a client on the basis of race, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, age, or disability.
  • Retaliation: Refusing a client due to a past complaint or disagreement is questionable.
  • Personal Prejudices: Declining based on arbitrary personal biases is not advisable.
  • Duty Obligations: Refusing court-appointed cases without valid reasons can be impermissible.
  • Misrepresentation: Falsely claiming reasons like conflicts of interest to decline is questionable.
  • Popularity Concerns: Refusing due to a case's unpopularity raises concerns; everyone deserves good representation.

What To Do If A Lawyer Declines To Work With Me Based On Financial Reasons?

For Victorians who are not able to afford the representation of a private law firm, it's a good idea to seek out free representation from Victoria Legal Aid.

Victoria Legal Aid offers assistance in various areas of the law, from criminal and family law to civil disputes and immigration matters. In addition to direct representation in court, they offer legal advice, educational resources, and workshops to help Victorians understand their rights and navigate the legal system.

Funding for Legal Aid Victoria primarily comes from government sources, ensuring that the scales of justice are balanced, and every individual, irrespective of their economic status, has access to fair representation.

You can learn more about Victoria Legal Aid by visiting

How To Find The Right Lawyer For Your Case

Before starting your search, pinpoint the specific type of lawyer you’re looking for, such as a criminal defence lawyer, a family lawyer or a commercial lawyer.

Next, start your search online for the specific type of lawyer you need. Consider checking their reviews on Google My Business to get an indication about how their past clients felt about working with them.

Most law firms offer a free or low-cost initial consultation. This is a chance for you to explain your case, gauge the lawyer's interest, and assess if you and the law firm are a good fit for eachother. This is also a perfect time to clarify their fee structure, check their availability and make sure you feel comfortable and confident that they are the right person to represent you.

Remember to speak to multiple lawyers before making a decision. The right fit can significantly influence the outcome of your case.


If you're looking for an experienced criminal defence lawyer in Melbourne to represent you, don't hesitate to contact Josh Smith Legal for a free case evaluation. Call us now on 03 9733 2344, we’re available 24/7 to provide you with the expertise and guidance you deserve for all criminal and traffic law matters.

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Staff Writer

Emma is a staff writer at Josh Smith Legal with a law and arts double degree. She expertly bridges the gap between legal intricacies and clear communication.

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