When choosing a lawyer you
will want one who specializes in the area of law you are concerned with.
Friends, neighbours, work acquaintances, your accountant or other professionals
you use may be able to refer you to a lawyer. If you have a lawyer you
have used in the past but he/she doesn't specialize in the area of law
you are now concerned with that lawyer may be able to refer you to a lawyer.
Websites are also great places to find a lawyer.
Youll need to do some
initial screening of your list of lawyers to whittle it down to three
or four prospective candidates:
Look at biographical information,
including whatever you can find on websites for the lawyers and their
law firms. Do they appear to have expertise in the area you need? Do
they have any information on their Web sites that is helpful to you?
Use search engines to surf
the Internet. Can you find any articles, FAQs or other informational
pieces the lawyer has done that give you a level of comfort? Cross check
your references by doing searches using key words such as Canadian
personal injury lawyers or Canadian trial lawyers.
Check to see if the lawyer
belongs to any specialty associations,
Ask other people if theyve
heard of the lawyers and what they think about them.
Check out the yellow pages
of your telephone directory. Does the lawyer advertise? If so, do you
find it compelling? Helpful? Tasteful?
Before you hire a lawyer,
ask for references. You want to talk to people who could comment on
the lawyers skills and trustworthiness. Ask if it is okay to talk
to some of the lawyers representative clients.
Ask for a copy of a firm
brochure and promotional materials that the firm may have. Crosscheck
these materials against your other sources and references.
Meeting with the Lawyer
When you deal with a lawyer,
as with all professionals, it is to your advantage to be well prepared
and knowledgeable. Also make sure you give the lawyer FULL AND COMPLETE
information concerning your situation. Your lawyer can give you the best
help and advice only if he/she has all the facts.
The following tips will make
the meeting efficient and productive:
Summarize your situation
in chronological, point form. This not only provides information for
your lawyer but aids you in focusing on relevant issues.
Bring along any relevant
Tell your whole story, even
if it is damaging or embarrassing. Your lawyer needs to consider all
options. Anything you tell your lawyer for the purpose of obtaining
legal advice is confidential and your lawyer is not allowed to disclose
what you say without your consent.
Sometimes, a lawyer will
try to facilitate the information gathering process by sending you a
questionnaire to fill out in advance.
Prepare a list of questions
to take with you to your first meeting. You have to feel comfortable
with your lawyer. Remember that your lawyer is working for you. You
want someone who is skilled, but you also have to get along with your
Questions and Issues you might discuss with your lawyer may include:
Talk to your lawyer
about his or her legal opinion, especially if you are thinking about
going to court. Find out about your options and alternatives. Make
sure you and your lawyer agree on your plans and priorities and
on the outcome you are looking for.
Does the lawyer need
any more information in order to evaluation your situation?
How many similar cases
has he or she handled?
What percent of his
or her practice is in the area of expertise that you need?
What problems does the
lawyer foresee with your file?
How would the lawyer
go about handling your situation? What is the process, including
the different stages, arrangement, filing of motions, motions hearing,
examinations for discovery, hiring expert witnesses, trial?
How long will it take
to bring the matter to a conclusion?
If the case is a criminal
matter does the lawyer ever plea bargain? All the time? Never? Either
of those answers could be a problem. Some cases likely should be
plea bargained. Other cases likely should go to trial.
If the case is a personal
injury matter, for example, does the lawyer like to settle his cases
or go to trial?
How would the lawyer
charge for his or her services?
Would the lawyer handle
the case personally or would it be passed on to some other lawyer
in the firm?
If other lawyers or
staff may do some of the work, could you meet them?
do Lawyers Charge, and How Much?
When you're shopping for legal
services, always ask potential lawyers to fully explain their fees and
billing practices. Don't hesitate to ask detailed questions and don't
be embarrassed. A lawyer's willingness to discuss fees is an important
indicator of how he or she treats clients.
Payment arrangements may include:
Hourly rates are
the most common arrangement. The attorney gets paid an agreed-upon hourly
rate for the hours he or she works on a client's file or matter until
it's resolved. Cheaper is not necessarily better when it comes to your
legal protection. A more expensive lawyer with a lot of experience may
be able to handle a complex problem more quickly.
Flat Fees - Where
a legal matter is simple and well defined, lawyers typically charge
a flat fee. Examples of flat fee matters include wills and uncontested
divorces. If a lawyer suggests or has advertised a flat fee, be sure
you understand exactly what that fee will and will not cover. The flat
fee might not include expenses such as filing fees.
A retainer fee is
typically an advance payment on the hourly rate for a specific file.
The lawyer puts the retainer in a trust account and deducts from that
account the cost of services as they accrue. During the course of legal
representation, clients should review periodic billing statements reflecting
amounts deducted from the retainer. Most retainers are non-refundable
unless labeled unreasonable by a court. If you decide to
drop a case that your lawyer has worked on before the retainer has been
exhausted, you may forfeit the remainder.
Contingency fee:(Note: These are the rules for British Columbia. For
rules in other jurisdiction refer to the Law
Society for your jurisdiction) In a contingency fee agreement,
the lawyer acts for the client in return for a percentage of the money
the client wins in a lawsuit. If no money is recovered, the lawyer collects
no fee. Contingency fee agreements are common in personal injury claims,
product liability cases and class actions.
Contingency fee agreements
must be in writing. Contingency fees are not permitted in family law
cases involving child custody or access. They are permitted in other
types of family law cases, but must be approved by the court.
In a claim for personal
injury or wrongful death arising out of a motor vehicle accident, the
maximum contingency fee allowed is one-third of the amount recovered.
In all other cases involving personal injury or wrongful death, the
maximum allowed is 40% of the amount recovered. There are no maximum
limits for contingency fees in cases not involving personal injury or
wrongful death. Lawyers often vary their contingency fee rates depending
on the amount of the claim, the degree of risk involved and the stage
at which the case is resolved.
In most contingency
fee agreements, the client is required to pay all disbursements, such
as medical reports, court filing fees and photocopying charges, regardless
of the outcome of the case.
How much can you expect
Rates for legal fees vary based
on location, experience of the lawyer, and the nature of the matter. Rates
may vary anywhere from $50 an hour to a $1,000 an hour or more.
In rural areas and small towns,
lawyers tend to charge less, and fees in the range of $100 to $200 an
hour for an experienced attorney are probably the norm. In major metropolitan
areas, the norm is probably closer to $200 to $400 an hour. Lawyers with
expertise in specialized areas may charge much more.
What about Disbursements
(expenses and court costs)?
Lawyers refer to all billing
items other than fees as "disbursements". Discuss with your
lawyer anticipated miscellaneous costs so that you can estimate those
costs up front and avoid any unpleasant surprises.
A law office typically has
many employees in addition to the lawyers. Knowing who these people are
and what they do may help you to be a more informed client and make your
lawyers representation more efficient. The law office hierarchy
can include any of the following people:
· Partners: People commonly refer to the owners of a law firm as
being the partners. Partners are usually the most experienced
lawyers in a firm and, consequently, they charge the highest fees.
whore employed by a firm but who arent owners are usually
called associates. Generally, associates can be very good
lawyers, but they typically have less experience than the partners of
the firm. Although it varies from firm to firm, associates may have to
work for perhaps three to 10 years before they are considered for partnership.
Given their experience, associates tend to bill at lower rates than partners.
Articling students are law school graduates who are training to be lawyers.
They work under the supervision of a lawyer and are permitted to perform
many of the tasks of a lawyer and are permitted to appear in court on
Paralegals: A paralegal
is someone who has legal training but who is not a lawyer. Paralegals
can serve a very important role in a law firm by providing critical support
to lawyers when they are working on files. In many instances, paralegals
can have a practical working knowledge of the law that can make them more
valuable to a law firm than a new associate. They are able to work under
the supervision of a lawyer on the detail work that has to be done on
every file but that cannot justify the high billing rates of a lawyer.
Legal Assistants: This
is really a catchall term that is sometimes used by law firms to describe
anyone in a law office who assists in working on legal matters. It may
include paralegals, legal secretaries, and other support staff.
Legal Secretaries: Every
lawyer is burdened with an endless barrage of administrative details and
procedural requirements that are a part of practicing law. These duties
and requirements can be a huge distraction for a lawyer who doesnt
have a competent legal secretary to organize and assist with the day-to-day
affairs of his or her practice.
Receptionists: A firm
of any size will have a legal receptionist. A receptionist is a very important
person in the office, as he or she is the firms initial contact
with the outside world.
Administrative Personnel: Larger law firms will have their own administrative personnel to run the
internal operations of the firm. While administrative staff generally
dont charge for their services, they do constitute an overhead cost
that is ultimately reflected in billing rates. Administrative staff may
include accountants, bookkeepers, librarians, billing and accounts receivable
personnel and human resources personnel.
Lawyers' & Clients' Responsibilities to Each Other
What are your lawyer's professional
All lawyers are subject to strict standards of professional responsibility.
These standards are set forth in codes of conduct and Privileges, ethics,
rules of professional conduct that are established by provincial
and territorial law societies. Here are some basic ethical and professional
rules your lawyer must follow:
Your lawyer must represent
you ethically, zealously and within the bounds of the law.
Your lawyer must competently
analyze legal issues and exercise knowledge of the law applicable to
He or she must communicate
with you in a timely and effective manner.
Your lawyer owes you, as
the client, a duty of loyalty. Your lawyer can't simultaneously represent
you and another client with legal interests that conflict with yours.
An example of an obvious conflict would be representation of both the
landlord and the tenant in an eviction action.
For so long as he or she
continues to represent you, your lawyer is required to follow your directions
in handling your case unless those directions are illegal.
Your lawyer must keep your
personal property separate from his or her own property, and must keep
your money in a trust account. Any time you demand it, your lawyer must
return your money or property.
Except in rare circumstances,
your lawyer is required to keep client confidences confidential.
Your attorney may have other
responsibilities to you, depending on your case and the ethical rules
that apply in your jurisdiction.
If a lawyer fails to abide
by these rules, he or she can be disciplined by any law society of which
he or she is a member. It's possible the lawyer may even be disbarred
for serious violations. Criminal prosecution is also a possibility. And
a failure to comply with the rules may be the basis for a malpractice
What responsibilities do
you owe your lawyer?
Look at the retainer agreement that you may have signed when you retained
your lawyer. Typically, these agreements will set out certain duties and
responsibilities of the client. By signing the agreement, you are contractually
bound to abide by them. Such duties and responsibilities may include:
Being truthful with your
Being cooperative with and
responsive to your lawyer.
Being available to your
lawyer and attending legal proceedings, as requested.
Paying your legal bills
in a timely manner.
to Keep your Legal Costs as Low as Possible
Prepare and be well organized
for each meeting with your lawyer. Make sure you have all documents
in order and that you have reviewed any documents your lawyer has sent
Keep your communications
with your lawyer concise and organized. Dont spend time discussing
issues unrelated to your legal matter.
Tell your whole story, even
if it is damaging or embarrassing. Your lawyer needs to consider all
options. Anything you tell your lawyer is confidential and your lawyer
is not allowed to disclose it without your consent.
Try to make the right decisions
the first time. Frequently changing your mind will cost you money.
Get to know your lawyers
assistants. If a secretary, legal assistant, articling student or junior
lawyer can help you, contact that person instead of the most senior
Find out if your expectations
are reasonable. Talk to your lawyer about his or her legal opinion,
especially if you are thinking about going to court.
Find out about your options
Make sure you and your lawyer
agree on your plans and priorities and that they are likely to lead
to the outcome you want.
over Legal Fees
If you dont understand
some of the items on your bill or if you disagree with the amount, the
first step is to talk it over with your lawyer. If your lawyer practices
with a firm, there may be another member of the firm with whom you can
discuss the bill. Go over the details and ask the lawyer to explain
why a particular charge was made.
If you and your lawyer cant
resolve your differences, you have the right to have your lawyer's fees
taxed (reviewed) by a Registrar of your
province's Supreme Court. Normally, a review of a bill must take
place within three months after it was paid or, if unpaid, within one
year after it was sent to you. Contingency fee agreements can also be
reviewed within three months after the agreement was made or terminated.
Some Law Societies offer
an informal fee mediation service if both you and your lawyer agree
this is appropriate. Under this program, an independent mediator will
assist the lawyer and client to reach a mutually agreeable resolution.
If you do not reach an agreement, you can apply for a fee review, provided
the time limit for applying for a review has not expired. In BC the
cost of the fee mediation is $25 for each party.
you Feel your Lawyer is Unethical or Incompetent
A good first step is to talk
to the lawyer or the lawyers firm. Misunderstandings can arise
because of a lack of communication. Often you can resolve these misunderstandings
simply by discussing your concerns. If not, you can write or call the Law Societys Professional Conduct Department.
The Law Society has authority
to review the conduct and competence of all lawyers, including lawyers
in private practice, legal aid lawyers, government lawyers and Crown
prosecutors. The Law Society can also review the conduct of a lawyer
outside the practice of law if the conduct reflects on the legal profession.
For more information on what the BC Law Society can do please refer
about a Lawyer's Conduct