I am often asked to help people find a lawyer for matters such as divorce, making a will, or finding out their rights in a workplace. I only take personal injury and abuse cases, so I can’t help with other types of cases. This is what I suggest to people who are looking for a lawyer:
In Ontario, you can obtain assistance for some matters without charge at legal clinics throughout the province. The legal clinic nearest you will be able to tell you whether they handle the type of matter you want help with, and whether you qualify for their assistance.
If you cannot get assistance through a legal clinic, then you need to find a lawyer who is in private practice. Ideally, you want a lawyer whose style is a good fit for you and whose fees you can afford. You can get names of lawyers in your area who handle the type of matter you need help with from a variety of sources: the local law association, the phone book, or the Law Society of Upper Canada. In smaller communities, there may be only one lawyer who handles certain types of cases.
If you have a choice of several or many lawyers to contact, how do you select one? Your friends can tell you whether you are likely to be comfortable with the personality and approach of any lawyers they know. Otherwise, the first meeting will give you an opportunity to get to know the lawyer.
Most law offices will tell you their lawyers’ rates over the phone. Some matters, such as making a will, cost a standard fee unless there are unusual circumstances. Other matters are billed on the basis of an hourly rate – anywhere from about $200/hour to $500/hour or more. This hourly rate pays for the office, support staff, equipment and supplies, as well as the lawyer’s fees. You should consider that a more experienced lawyer who charges a higher rate may be able to complete a matter in less time than a lawyer with less experience who charges a lower hourly rate.
Lawyers will usually give you a range as to what the total fees will be for any type of matter. In general, you need to pay in advance for your legal fees. For some types of cases, such as the cases I handle, it is common for lawyers to work on a “contingency fee” basis – that is, our legal fees come out of any settlement or award and you do not have to pay in advance.
In most cases, lawyers charge a fee for a first meeting with you to review your case, provide some initial advice and let you know whether they can help you. To get the most out of this meeting, it is important to prepare.
Do you need a lawyer? In most cases, you can find someone to help you. And though we have heard almost all of the lawyer jokes, if you have a new one – we can take it!