The law is part of your daily life and lawyers are trained to guide you through the legal process. A lawyer can help you buy a home, write a will, or sell a business. A lawyer can also help you if you get injured, if you are getting a divorce, or if you are charged with a crime.
You may have a problem that involves legal issues. It may be as simple as collecting a debt that has not been paid, or as complicated as settling your personal injury claim with ICBC after a car accident. A lawyer can give you advice to help you solve your legal problem.
You do not have to be represented by a lawyer to appear in court. But, if you represent yourself in court, you should meet with a lawyer to get legal advice and find out the best way to present your case to the judge.
Legal cases can be complicated, frustrating, and time-consuming. If you have a legal problem, a lawyer can explain the legal issues and how the law applies to your situation. This will help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
It is a good idea to meet with a lawyer in the early stages, so you know what your legal options are. Even if you have taken steps to solve the problem yourself, you can talk with a lawyer at any step in the legal process.
Hiring a lawyer may be expensive, but it can also save you time and money. If you have a legal problem, getting advice from a lawyer is the best way to be sure your legal rights are protected.
Role of Lawyers
Lawyers are highly trained and skilled professionals who can:
Lawyers can also:
In British Columbia, all lawyers are guided by a professional code of conduct that is enforced by the Law Society of BC. When you hire a lawyer, he or she is required to represent you and be loyal to you alone. All discussions you have with your lawyer are absolutely confidential.
Your lawyer will try to settle your case by negotiating with the other party. If a settlement is not possible, your lawyer may represent you in court. It is the lawyer’s duty to present your case in court, to the best of his or her ability.
How to Find a Lawyer
There are some things to consider when choosing a lawyer. You are choosing someone to help you with your legal problem and to be your advocate until the dispute is settled, so look for a lawyer who:
You can find a lawyer by contacting a Lawyer Referral Service in your area. For example, the Canadian Bar Association’s BC branch (www.CBA.org.bc) can direct you to a lawyer who knows about the law that applies to your case. You can meet with a lawyer for 30 minutes for only $25. IF you hire that lawyer, the $25 fee is often waived. Even if you don’t hire the lawyer, you will pay just $25 to get expert legal advice.
In your first meeting with a lawyer, it is a good idea to think about the meeting like a job interview. As you discuss your problem with the lawyer, you are deciding if he or she is the best choice to represent you.
You may be entitled to government funded Legal Aid or to pro bono (free) legal services. You can learn more about this in this section on Free and Low-Cost Legal Services. When you hire a lawyer, you can pay them to do all the work, or you can pay for Unbundled Legal Services (see below).
What to Expect from a Lawyer
You can expect your lawyer to explain the law to you, as well different options for how to solve the problem without going to court. Your lawyer will give you legal advice, but he or she will not make decisions for you. You must stay involved in your case. You must give your lawyer instructions about how to proceed at every step of the way.
Be sure you understand what the lawyer tells you. If he or she uses a legal term that you do not understand, ask what it means. If you do not understand the lawyer’s advice, you should ask to hear it again. It is always helpful to write down the lawyer’s answers to your questions.
Your lawyer is your advocate. This means that he or she will communicate with the other person or the other person’s lawyer – and that your lawyer will represent your interests. All communications from the other party (such as letters, telephone calls, faxes, and emails) must be directed to your lawyer, not to you. And all communications between you and your lawyer are absolutely confidential.
Your lawyer’s expertise is in resolving legal disputes, not personal problems. Remember to restrict your discussions to the legal issues that concern you.
Paying for a Lawyer
Here are some things to think about if you decide to hire a lawyer. The following section explains how you can reduce the cost of legal fees, from arranging a payment plan with your lawyer, to giving the lawyer a percentage of the money that you win in your court case, to doing some of the legal work yourself. Before you start any legal action, it is very important to talk to your lawyer about the cost involved and how you will pay your lawyer’s fee.
Paying Full Legal Fees
If you are paying a lawyer for legal services, you can discuss ways to pay your bill. For example, you may not be able to pay the full amount when your case is finished, but you can afford to pay $500 per month until the bill is paid. Or, your lawyer may agree to a reduced fee.
For example, your lawyer may agree to complete the legal work for less money (e.g., a 15% discount). And in some cases, like where you are injured in a car accident, your lawyer may work on a contingency fee basis, which means that he or she takes a percentage of the money you are awarded by ICBC. If you do not receive a money settlement from ICBC, the lawyer does not charge you a fee, except for disbursements (expenses that arise during the course of the case, like the fee for filing court documents).
You should always discuss payment options with your lawyer before he or she starts your legal work.
Unbundled Legal Services
A lawyer might provide limited services to a client. Lawyers call these services "unbundled" or "limited scope retainer" legal services. If you can do some of the work to advance your case, you can pay a lawyer to do the parts that you cannot do. It’s an arrangement where you pay only for what you want. It is a mid-way option between full legal representation and no legal representation. In this situation, you and your lawyer work as a team to resolve your legal problem.
Here are some examples where you might pay a lawyer for limited or unbundled services:
An agreement with a lawyer for any legal work is called a “retainer.” A written retainer letter sets out the work that the lawyer has agreed to do, and what the lawyer will not do. For example, if you are buying a business, you might retain a lawyer to prepare the documents for transferring the business to you, but not for preparing the documents relating to a private loan that you arrange to buy the business. The retainer agreement sets out the scope of your lawyer’s involvement in the file.
If you want to hire a lawyer to work on some (but not all) parts of your file, it is very important that both you and your lawyer understand and agree on which tasks you have asked your lawyer to do. Your lawyer will want to be sure that you understand the work that you will be doing on your own and that you are capable of handling it. Your lawyer will prepare a retainer letter that sets out:
You and your lawyer are working as a team, and it is important that you carefully complete whatever tasks you take on. It is also important that you and your lawyer communicate clearly. Ask questions if you do not understand what your lawyer said.
You can help your lawyer a great deal by being organized – put your documents in a logical order, keep a file or binder of your documents, and write a brief summary of the important facts in your case. You can prepare a worksheet to keep track of what your lawyer will be doing, and what you have agreed to do. Being well organized is probably the most effective thing you can do to help your lawyer and keep your legal costs down. (See Worksheet 3: Unbundled Legal Services.)
You should talk to a lawyer about your legal problem before deciding if you want to do some of the work yourself. Some legal problems are very complicated and it is not a good idea to handle any part of it on your own. You and your lawyer can decide together what options you have and the best way to proceed.
IMPORTANT: This page provides legal information, not legal advice. If you need legal advice consult a lawyer.
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