What to Expect When Hiring a Lawyer
Thank you to our friend Corrine Fiesel at Realty One Legal for this guest post on “What You Have the Right to Expect When You Hire a Lawyer”.
Eventually in life, just about everyone experiences some event that requires legal advice or documentation. Sometimes it’s because of unhappy circumstances –an accident, a marriage that’s ending, a law suit, or even a crime. But most of the time, it’s because of pleasant life-changing events such as buying or selling a home, starting a new business or expanding an existing one, planning your estate –all of these can present circumstances where a lawyer’s involvement is either advisable or required.
In Canada we refer to lawyers as “barristers and solicitors”. The term “barrister” refers to a lawyer who conducts litigation and will go to Court, if necessary, on behalf of their client, whereas “solicitor” refers to a lawyer that accomplishes legal objectives through advice and documentation alone. In England, lawyers are required to make a choice in being either one or the other whereas in Canada, a lawyer can do both. Family law lawyers are a good example, for instance, of lawyers who prepare legal agreements and documentation (such as separation agreements) but will also litigate and go to Court on behalf of their clients. For the most part, however, the majority of lawyers in Canada will choose to be either litigators (barristers) or solicitors throughout their careers.
I have practiced as a solicitor for 20 years so this article is written from that perspective; and though I’ve worked for some of the largest law firms in Canada and abroad, I have for the last 5 years had my own legal practice and found my passion in working with small to medium size businesses and ordinary people involved in those happier day-to-day life events.
What I noticed while working for those large law firms, however, is that lawyers for the most part tend to forget that they are actually in a service profession: our clients are ultimately human beings with real life issues that require our assistance in resolving. That sounds self-evident but somehow a lot of lawyers have lost sight of it –and charge exorbitant fees for advice that can be impractical and poorly communicated. It’s something I set about to change when I opened my own law firm.
When you call or email a lawyer to make your first inquiry about their legal services, you should expect to get a response quickly. No more than 24 hours is a good rule of thumb although personally I strive to phone or email clients back as soon as possible. Having to wait for a response for more than 24 hours shows either poor organization or a lazy attitude towards taking on new clients. Sometimes lawyers are busy, certainly, but they should then have staff in place to field those initial queries.
You should never have to put up with a surly, short or discourteous response to any inquiry from a lawyer or their staff. More than that, someone should take the time to answer your initial questions without making you feel like you’re a bother because you haven’t hired them yet. Obviously a lawyer cannot instantly assess your issues and give you an answer on the first call –that is, after all, what you are hiring them for and how we lawyers make our living –but either the lawyer or a staff member should give you a clear picture on: (i) how you go about hiring them, (ii) what the overall process will be, (iii) how much the fees will be (or at least a clear estimate); and (iv) when you can expect an answer or results.
Obviously you want your lawyer to have the legal knowledge required to help you achieve your goal or solve your issue but that doesn’t mean the advice or documents have to be in language you don’t understand. There’s a lot of legal language out there that is leftover from 100+ years ago and there’s no reason that lawyers have to continue using it. More importantly, when you need answers to specific questions or when a lawyer is giving you information to assist you in making a decision, both the information and the choices should be clear to you. There is no excuse for confusing or out-dated language, unclear writing in agreements and letters, or poor communication in general. In addition, the options that lawyers present you with should be practical for your circumstances. You should not feel like you are being pushed into something that simply doesn’t work for your life or budget.
With few exceptions, a lawyer should not be late or miss appointments or deadlines. When a lawyer tells you they will do something within a certain time frame, they should honour that promise and if they cannot, they should explain to you well before the deadline why it is being missed and suggest a new schedule for completion. A lawyer who constantly misses deadlines or does not communicate with you about timing and results shows disrespect for your schedule and priorities.
This is a difficult one. While lawyers may work long hours, most law offices are open for client appointments Monday to Friday during regular business hours only. Making an appointment becomes next to impossible if you have the kind of job where you can’t get away, you work shift work, have small children or elderly relatives at home, travel frequently, or have any kind of mobility issue. Very few law firms recognize the need for a different level of service in this regard and if they do, they charge extra for it. But if a lawyer won’t even make it easy for you to see them or sign documents, how much do they really want you as a client? Since I started my own business 5 years ago, I’ve provided mobile service to my clients and have met with them in their homes, on work sites, at hospitals and nursing homes and even at the airport between flights. The impact of this level of service became especially clear in the Covid19 crisis. While other lawyers were scrambling to determine how they could service their clients, I continued providing in-home mobile service whenever my clients requested it.
More lawyers need to be willing to take extra time and courtesy to show that they are not only intelligent individuals but caring about the clients they serve.
If you have any questions regarding this article or if you would like more information about the services that Corrine provides, you can reach her here:
Corrine M. Fiesel Professional Corporation DBA
Realty One Legal Services and Legal One Securities & Corporate Law
604, 550 – 11 Avenue SW, Calgary, AB T2R 1M7
firstname.lastname@example.org OR email@example.com Phone: (403) 613-5573 www.realtyonelegal.com
The Costen Insurance Team