Paralegal SCOPE welcomes a new contributor. Minda Bowman writes a “paralegal advice” column, based on questions about ethical dilemmas, client management tips and sticky issues that simply are not addressed in typical courses or CPDs.
Dear Minda: “I have a client with a new baby. She must bring him to appointments at my office. During her last visit, her baby started to cry and was hungry. Before I knew it, she began breastfeeding the baby in front of me, with her breast fully exposed!
While I realize the need to feed the baby, of course, I have strong beliefs about nudity and I was really embarrassed. She will return to my office for follow-up appointments. I am dreading this.
How do I balance my client’s right and need to breastfeed her baby on-demand, with my own issues around exposed breasts in my office, and my right to feel comfortable in my workplace? What if another client sees her? What if my wife stops in? I don’t want to risk losing this client, by taking the wrong approach in dealing with this issue.”
The issue of breastfeeding is certainly rife with controversy and opportunities for misunderstanding. Breastfeeding is a delicate issue for many. It touches on views of sexuality, women’s rights, cultural factors and etiquette.
The mother may view her engorged breast not as a sexual object, but as a mammary gland that simply produces milk to nourish her child; she has no qualms, therefore, about exposing herself to feed her child if the child is hungry, in much the same way as she would whip out a glass bottle with a nipple attached. Some who are offended, including both men and women, have been conditioned to view the female breast in a sexual manner. They are embarrassed by witnessing a woman breastfeeding.
Certainly, your client must feel comfortable in your office, as should you.
There are many arguments in favour of a mother’s right to feed her baby “on demand,” whether in public or in front of a legal services provider. Some women do combine this natural maternal act with their consideration of others’ rights, and take steps to be more discreet – such as feeding the baby under a bib for privacy.
Why don’t you suggest to your client that if she needs to breastfeed her baby at your office, that you would step out so as not to disturb her privacy. If she insists that you stay and continue the consult, you may want to be candid about the fact that you are not accustomed to the display of breasts, regardless of the purpose, and that it is your preference to step outside.
Your client should also understand that not everyone is comfortable with public breastfeeding. It is a matter of opinion and personal comfort. Sensitivity and mutual respect on the part of both parties is essential to preserving the client-paralegal relationship. We can refer to our Rules of Paralegal Conduct – Rule 3 – that we have a duty to provide services and represent the client in a “conscientious way” and to be “candid and honest” with them.
I would hope that your client would understand and appreciate your offer to step out of the room for a while until she finishes breastfeeding.
See the Rules of Professional Conduct for more guidance:
Rule 2.01 INTEGRITY AND CIVILITY
The paralegal should, in his/her capacity as an enabler of justice, fairness, accessibility and accommodation, deal with the client and her need to breastfeed her baby in a sensitive and professional manner that does no harm to the client’s sense of self esteem and natural right as a mother to nurture.
Rule 3.02 ADVISING CLIENTS
The paralegal should be able, in a professional and sensitive manner, to express to his own client that he would feel more comfortable if he stepped out of the room while the client breastfed, and would be happy to give mother and child some privacy.
Regarding Compliance issues: A paralegal should be sensitive and professional when it comes to client needs. A paralegal should facilitate legal services that “do no harm,” in terms of outward displays of embarrassment or verbal expressions of disapproval. Tolerance regarding the breastfeeding client promotes access to justice.
Chappell v. Securitas Canada Limited, 2012 HRTO 874 (CanLII)
Valle v. H&M, 2008 BCHRT 456 (CanLII)
Do you have a paralegal ethics, client-management or etiquette question? Send questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration in future “Ask Minda” installments.
Please note that not all questions can be answered. Advice in “Ask Minda” is not intended to be definitive, nor is it legal or practice-management advice. Paralegals are encouraged to seek a range of opinions, from colleagues, the Law Society, senior paralegals and mentors, before deciding on any course of action when it comes to ethics and client-management matters.
Minda Bowman, B.A., is a Licensed Paralegal, Mediator, Mentor and Legal Program Instructor. A passionate educator, she is a member of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute of Canada. Minda operates Ceasefire Dispute Resolution, focusing on negotiation, mediation and arbitration of small claims court matters.