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Legal Ease: Frequently asked questions about hiring a lawyer

As a retired lawyer, I am frequently asked general questions, especially about the relationship between
attorney and client. Here are some of those questions and my answers.

How do I find an attorney to represent me?

One way is to ask friends and relatives if they know someone or have been represented by one they can recommend. Another way is to telephone the Montreal bar referral service at 514-866-2490 or write to: reference@barreaudemontreal.qc.ca. You will be referred to a member of the bar practicing in the field of law you require. The lawyers registered with this service have agreed to provide a half-hour consultation for a $30 fee. For any services rendered in excess of that time period, the fee can be negotiated between yourself and that lawyer.

Do I have to continue with the first lawyer I consult?

The answer is a definite “no”. Nor does that lawyer have to accept you as a client following that initial consultation.

How do I know that the lawyer will represent me properly?

There is never any guarantee that you will win in court. Remember there always is a winner and a loser once a case is heard in court. It is usually better to settle a case before it is heard in court. Our legal procedure rules insist that efforts be made to mediate disputes before they wind up in court. In general your lawyer is on your side and wants you to win. He will do the best he can on your behalf. In fact he is obliged to do so under the lawyers’ Code of Ethics, which sets out the values and principles a lawyer must consider in all circumstances. These include loyalty to clients as well as protection of their legitimate interests. The Ethics Code also sets out those duties owed by a lawyer to his client, which include integrity, competence, loyalty, confidentiality, independence, impartiality, diligence and prudence.

How can I be certain the lawyer will do what I want him to do?

The obvious reason is that this is how he will keep you as a client. However, he also has an obligation to refrain from performing any illegal act or any act that is against your best interests as well as a duty to try to dissuade you from doing the same. His services to be performed on your behalf as well as the cost of same should be set out in a written mandate the terms and conditions of which must be determined with you, the client. Included in this should be a description of the basic procedures to be followed and the time line to be expected. This can never be precise but should contain enough information for you to understand what to expect as your case proceeds. He must also explain to you the risks inherent in the measures to be undertaken. You will want to know the worst-case scenario and the best-case scenario. It is his obligation to be honest and candid with you. He must obtain your consent to this mandate and ensure that you understand its contents.

How do I know how much my case will cost?

This must be discussed with the lawyer before you ask him to represent you. Among the issues to be discussed and put into the mandate are his hourly rate, an estimate of the number of hours to be spent or the cost of a particular document or procedure, and how much you will be invoiced for phone calls and other communications with you.

If other members of his office will be working on your case, ask for their costs and hours. If, upon winning your case, you will receive an amount of money, you need to know whether or not the lawyer will take a percentage of the amount received either instead of the hourly rate or in addition to it. You need to ask how often you will be invoiced and whether you are expected to provide a retainer and, if so, in what amount.

How often can I communicate with my lawyer?

Your lawyer has an obligation to be available to you at reasonable times and frequency. He has an obligation to report events relevant to your case such as receipt of procedures or offers of settlement.

What should I look for when choosing a lawyer?

This depends on your personal preferences as well as the nature of your legal problem. You may prefer a more aggressive or a more conciliatory person to represent you. You may feel more comfortable going to a large legal firm or a smaller office. You may want to be represented by a lawyer whose office is located in the same jurisdiction as the court in order to minimize your lawyer’s travel time. And the chemistry has to be right. Listen to your gut feeling. You may have to be in contact with this person for a long time; you want to feel comfortable.

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