Lawyer fees and costs: what should I expect?

February 13, 2014

Don’t give up on your rights just because you think you can’t afford a lawyer. There are ways to find lawyer fees and costs for any kind of budget.

Not like in the movies

On TV, lawyers are always making dramatic gestures before juries and elbowing through mobs of news cameras outside the courthouse. But in real life, lawyers provide many services without ever stepping foot in a courtroom. They negotiate agreements, set up businesses, settle inheritances, and file wills and testaments. For such things, you don’t need to be a millionaire to handle the lawyer fees and costs.

Lawyer fees and costs are governed by a code of ethics. Lawyers are expected to charge and accept fair and reasonable fees, justified by the circumstances and proportionate to the services rendered.

  • In the legal domain, it is common to charge an hourly rate. The more experience a lawyer has in an area, the higher the fees.
  • It is also possible to pay a fixed lump sum—a retainer—that has been predetermined by you and your lawyer. Lawyer fees and costs for amicable divorces, driving while intoxicated, and theft are sometimes set in this way.
  • In the instance where a judgement awards you a sum of money, you may have a prearranged agreement by which you pay between 15 and 30 percent of it to your lawyer. The percentage is determined by your chances of winning; the amount of your claim; whether you need to go to court; or if a settlement is possible. If you lose your case, you will have to resort to a prior agreement based on an hourly rate or on merit.

Keep your lawyer fees and costs to a minimum

Above all, good preparation in advance will help you save on legal expenses. Here are a few tips to help you do this.

  • Write in detail the sequence of events and facts pertinent to your case, including the names and addresses of potential witnesses.
  • Put all your relevant documents in order.
  • Prepare all your questions.
  • During the litigation, try to communicate by e-mail or talk to a secretary, and do so only when necessary.
  • Ask if certain tasks related to your case could be performed by a colleague with less experience. A junior lawyer’s fees and costs are generally more affordable.

Come to an agreement

The issue of lawyer fees and costs should be addressed during the first phone call with the law firm. Just because lawyers are good litigants, it doesn’t mean you can’t haggle with them. Whatever mode of billing you agree upon, ask for your agreement be put in writing. Request itemized bills. And if you have a dispute with your lawyer about his or her fees, the law society in your province can intervene.

Lawyer fees and costs: what should I expect?
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