How do you choose a lawyer? Hiring a lawyer is an important decision – you need to spend some time and do your research. You can’t base decisions based on ads you see on the internet or the side of a bus. Just like picking a wine based on the label – you may not like what you get! You want to be sure the lawyer you choose is the right fit for you and your situation.
Consider what kind of legal issue you have – are you buying a house? Do you need a will? Are you getting a divorce? Ask people who work in that industry what lawyer they prefer to work with. For example: if you are buying a house, ask your realtor, mortgage broker, or banker– they will have worked with lawyers who specialize in that area of law and be able to make a recommendation.
When considering a lawyer, check out their website. Lawyers’ websites will set out what area of law they practice in, how long they have been a lawyer, and what community groups they participate in – that can help you determine fit and that they handle the type of law your matter requires.
The usual process when hiring a lawyer is that their office will first conduct a conflict check to be sure your case does not conflict with any existing or past client’s legal interests. Once the conflict check is done, the lawyer will want to meet with you (or speak with you by telephone or virtually) for an initial consultation. Lawyers have identification requirements they have to meet, so you will have to provide ID at the meeting, or before if it is a telephone or video consultation. If the consultation is being done remotely and there are documents to review, the lawyer will usually want to look at those in advance to maximize your meeting time.
Once you and the lawyer meet and agree on a course of action, the lawyer will advise you about the next steps and a plan of action. Some things are invoiced at a flat rate, like a will or a house purchase, and the process is non-contentious and straightforward. If the legal matter will require several steps and an ongoing relationship with the lawyer and the client, the lawyer will prepare a retainer letter setting out the job the lawyer will do for you, what the charges are, and any other details. The client then provides a sum of money (called a retainer amount) that the lawyer will hold in trust and use as security for the work that they will perform. The client will then get billed on a periodic basis as the case proceeds – this is usually for litigation matters or complicated legal matters like buying a business or restructuring a company.
If you are not sure if you need a lawyer and just have a few questions, the Canadian Bar Association has a Lawyer Referral Service – lawyers in your community sign up for this and offer a 30-minute consultation for $25 plus tax. The number to call for that service is 1-800-663-1919.
The Bar Association also offers something called Dial-a-Law which is pre-recorded free legal information on various legal topics. The number to call for that service is 1-800-565-5297.
Kamloops is also lucky to offer a TRU Community Legal Clinic, where law school students, supervised by lawyers, provide free legal services for clients that meet the low-income requirements. Their number is 778-471-8490.
The Law Society of BC has a website where you can look up any lawyer in BC when they became a lawyer, their contact information, and if they have had any disciplinary action taken against them. If a person is not listed on the Law Society website, they are not licensed to practice law in BC and cannot give legal advice. Although there are agencies that purport to give legal ‘assistance’ for a fee, that is not permitted because their standard and quality of assistance are not regulated. Only Lawyers, and Notaries for non-contentious matters, can give legal advice or assistance for a fee.
The value of hiring a lawyer when you are doing the routine steps in life like buying a house or preparing a will is that you will develop a relationship with that lawyer. Then, if something arises that you urgently need a lawyer for, like a car accident or litigation dispute, you already have a lawyer you know and trust that you can call and get advice from. It takes the stress of finding a lawyer when you are already upset and taking a chance on the right fit when you have urgent deadlines you may need to meet or you are injured and unwell.
A wise person once said, “Justice isn’t Just without a Lawyer you can Trust”.