choosing a lawyer

Choosing and Working with Lawyers.

Choosing and Working with Lawyers - Topics on this page:

Choosing and Working with Lawyers - Picking a Lawyer

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.

You'll need to do some initial screening of your list of lawyers to whittle it down to three or four prospective candidates:


Choosing and Working with Lawyers - Initial 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:


Choosing and Working with Lawyers - How 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:

How much can you expect to pay?

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.


Choosing and Working with Lawyers - Law Office Personnel

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 lawyer'srepresentation 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.

Associates: Lawyers who’re employed by a firm but who aren’t 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: 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 certain matters.

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 doesn’t 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 firm'sinitial 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 don’t 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.


Choosing and Working with Lawyers - Lawyers' & Clients' Responsibilities to Each Other

What are your lawyer's professional obligations?
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:

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 action.

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:


Choosing and Working with Lawyers - Ways to Keep your Legal Costs as Low as Possible


Choosing and Working with Lawyers - Disagreement over Legal Fees


Choosing and Working with Lawyers - If you Feel your Lawyer is Unethical or Incompetent

A good first step is to talk to the lawyer or the lawyer'sfirm. 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 Society'sProfessional 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 to: Concerned about a Lawyer's Conduct



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