Skapinker & Shapiro LLP
Barristers & Solicitors
Choosing and Working with a Lawyer
There is no legal requirement that persons contemplating separation or those already having separated see a lawyer. Of course if your spouse retains a lawyer, you may have no choice but to do likewise. There are do-it-yourself guidebooks which set out how to go about obtaining a divorce and there are para-legals who assist spouses in obtaining uncontested divorces. A guide book is of necessity fairly generalized. It cannot speak to the particulars of your situation. A paralegal or law clerk may be competent to handle basic matters but should any larger more complex issue arise, you will require a lawyer. The reason all separating spouses should seek competent independent legal advice from a lawyer knowledgeable in the area of Ontario Family Law is so that they can quickly determine which route to follow. If you wish to retain a mediator/arbitrator you will not nrecessarily need that lawyer to represent you in the mediation/arbitration. You will need to obtain independent legal advice before you sign the mediation/arbitration agreement and you will need independent legal advice before you sign a settlement agreement but you can represent yourself in the mediation/arbitration process.
The best way to find a lawyer is by word of mouth from friends, relatives and colleagues. In the event you do not know anyone who has someone to refer you to, you have other options such as doing an internet search, calling the Law Society's Lawyer Referral Service or looking in the Yellow Pages.
The important thing is to remember that you are buying a service from your lawyer. You are a consumer and your relationship with your lawyer will be important while the case is under way. It is therefore important that you find a lawyer who you have confidence in and can build a rapport with. There are many lawyers who are willing to give you a free initial consultation and you should take advantage of this.
Competent legal advice can be expensive. In order to remove the mystery from the process and to understand the costs involved, you should enter into a written retainer agreement with your lawyer. This agreement should spell out exactly what the lawyer's charges will be based on. While it is very difficult, if not impossible, for a lawyer to quote you an overall fee in a family law matter, you can take the following steps to ensure that costs do not exceed your expectations.
Ask your lawyer to explain the overall strategy of your case and detail the steps he/she proposes taking to achieve your goal. You should obtain a breakdown of the cost of each step so that you can decide whether it is cost effective before your lawyer proceeds.
When calling your lawyer for information not involving legal advice, such as to find out if a certain document has arrived, ask the secretary rather than speak with the lawyer. This will save you money because lawyers charge for their time.
Do not waste time. Make sure you prepare fully for all meetings, write down all questions as they come up and ask all of them at one time. Give information in writing and obtain as many background documents as possible, such as income tax returns, bank statements, etc.
Make sure your lawyer sends you interim accounts, if possible each month so that you know where you stand cost wise. Most lawyers will require a financial deposit. If you are unable to pay a deposit or keep your lawyer in funds but have property, try to negotiate with your lawyer to pay him/her from your share of the property once the case settles.
It is suggested that you determine, with the assistance of an income tax expert, whether all or part of your legal fees are tax deductible. The tax rules are constantly changing but recent rulings make it easier to obtain tax relief. Your legal fees expended to obtain a division of property may, in certain circumstances, be deductible.
Disclaimer and Acknowledgment
We acknowledge the Law Society of Upper Canada as a source of parts of the material contained herein. There are no guarantees, undertakings or warranties given concerning the accuracy, completeness or up-to-date nature of the information provided which is without warranty or condition of any kind. This information does not provide legal advice and is not meant to replace legal advice, it is a very broad summary only. Your individual circumstances may affect the applicability of some statements and so it is important for you to obtain legal advice by consulting a lawyer.