June 29, 2017 By: Karine Dion
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Generally speaking, you need a lawyer when you have a problem. However, choosing the right one may seem like a daunting task. That said, it is an important one, as choosing the right lawyer and/or law firm will help you better understand your situation, your options, and hopefully leave you feeling as though you have been heard and that someone is on your side.

How do I choose a lawyer?

Below are my top 3 things to keep in mind when choosing a lawyer and/or a law firm.

1. Area of expertise

The first thing you will want to consider is the area of expertise. Some lawyers only practise in one area of law, whereas others practise in multiple areas. For those who specialize, they generally remain up to date on the most relevant cases, applicable laws, and even how certain judges respond to certain claims. For example, the lawyers in Nelligan O’Brien Payne’s Employment Law Group only practise in one, possibly two, practice areas. We are therefore well-versed in all employment law matters, and spend a lot of time and effort staying up to date on the current laws and any upcoming changes. We constantly read new decisions (often blog about them too!), and advise the others in our group about anything interesting that comes up. This expertise will help you save on costs, as a specialist will already know the basics and should only have to research unique situations. This expertise is also a tremendous asset in settling your file more quickly and being able to answer all of your questions.

2. Fees

How lawyers charge you for their time will differ based on the firm, lawyer, and even the type of issue with which you are faced. The three most common fee models are a) hourly rate, b) flat rate/block fee, and c) contingency.

a) Hourly rate

Most lawyers charge an hourly rate for their time. This rate typically changes based on year of call (when a person actually became a lawyer), with their rate increasing the longer they have been a lawyer. The idea behind this increase is that those with more experience arguably have more knowledge of the law and more experience in the area, and thus can do the same work faster than a more junior lawyer. That said, any time spent working on your file, such as research, drafting documents and email correspondence, and telephone calls with you and the opposing party/counsel, would be charged to your file. The amount you owe would then be based on that specific lawyer’s hourly rate. Firms can choose their lawyers’ hourly rate, so rates do vary from firm to firm for those lawyers with the same year of call, and also within the same firm depending on practice area.

b) Flat rate/block fee

Sometimes, however, you could be charged a flat rate or block fee for a work product. In this case, no matter who is doing the work or how long it takes them to do the work, you know exactly how much you will be paying for that specific job. Examples of work products that generally have a block fee are real estate transactions or having a Will drawn up.

c) Contingency

A contingency file is one where you generally only pay for disbursements charged to your file; that is, actual costs incurred by the firm on your behalf for such things as photocopies, couriers, court filing fees, etc. You are not charged for any time actually spent by lawyers on your file (although they still keep track of all hours worked).

What you end up paying in total is contingent on the outcome of the dispute. So if it turns out not being in your favour, you are only charged for the disbursements listed above. However, if you are successful at trial, or if you settle outside of court, you will then have to pay your lawyer’s fees, in addition to a premium on those fees, as they accepted the risk of possibly not getting paid anything. This fee model is most commonly seen in personal injury files.

Below is a table with a breakdown of the different fee models, including pros and cons for each:

MODEL PROS CONS
Hourly Rate – You will only be charged for the time actually worked on your file – It is impossible for a firm to tell you in advance how much your bills will be
Flat Rate / Block Fee – You know exactly how much a certain work product will cost, and can budget accordingly – Even if it would have otherwise cost you less to have the work done through the hourly rate model, you will get charged the agreed-upon flat rate
Contingency – You don’t have to pay any legal fees until your file is resolved (although you still have to pay for disbursements)
– You generally don’t pay any legal fees unless you win your case (or settle)
– You pay a premium on the legal fees because of the risk taken by the lawyers working on your file

Needless to say, prior to choosing a lawyer and a law firm, it is important for you to understand how fees are billed so that you can make an informed decision.

3. The right fit

It is important that you like, or at the very least respect, the lawyer with whom you are working. It is the same as any relationship: if you do not get a good feeling about your lawyer (for example, if they do not respond to you, they seem angry with you, they do not listen to what you are saying, or they are asking you to do something unethical), then they might not be the right choice for you. As the client, it is your choice alone.

Trust your gut with this one, as you may end up spending a lot of time with your lawyer. Wouldn’t you rather have them help alleviate your stress, as opposed to creating more?

If you have an employment issue and think you might need a lawyer, contact our Employment Law Group.

This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2017 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.