This is part 2 in a series of articles to help you deal effectively with lawyers. These comments are based on my 23 years’ experience as an attorney meeting with clients from every part of the globe.

Our previous Blog article was called How to prepare for your first meeting with a lawyer. We strongly recommend that you read that Blog post first.

Now that you have arrived at the law firm, what can you expect? Well, you are probably seated in the reception area, sipping a coffee or a glass of water. The lawyer comes to greet you. Let’s start the meeting!

Confidentiality of legal services

  • Depending on where you have lived in the past, you may have some suspicions about lawyers and the extent to which they can be trusted with your private information.
  • It is important to note that even your first consultation with a lawyer in Canada is protected by strict rules of professional secrecy. We will not repeat your details to other persons without your consent, unless obliged to do so by law. (Note that an obligation for a lawyer to disclose information occurs in only the rarest of circumstances. For example, if you tell me you intend to kill your wife, I will be obliged to inform the authorities.)

What will happen at the meeting?

  • Do not be surprised if you are shown into a conference room, rather than to the lawyer’s office. Some law firms have a policy against client meetings in attorneys’ offices, or perhaps the lawyer feels his or her office is not tidy enough to receive you. So do not worry yourself about it.
  • Once you sit down to start the meeting, after a few pleasantries, the lawyer will likely ask to see your identity cards and request that you put your documents on the table so they are at hand.
  • The lawyer will then indicate that the documents you sent prior to the meeting have been reviewed, and will begin the main part of the meeting with an open question, such as, “Would you like to tell me about your problem?” or “What can I do for you?”
  • The reason for posing such an open question is to allow you to feel at ease so you are ready to highlight your main concerns and objectives.
  • At this point, you will be glad you have prepared your list of concerns and questions so you can discuss them and start looking for a solution to your situation.
  • If you are part of a group meeting with a lawyer, do your part to make sure your spokespersons deal with all the issues the group wanted to discuss, and that the discussion does not go off track.
  • During your meeting, describe all the facts as best as you can. If you believe there are weak points on your side of the issue, or if you know you failed to follow some rule or requirement related to your situation, do not hide these points. Be honest. You do yourself no good to try to “test” the lawyer to see if he or she can guess what you are hiding. This is not the way to assess a lawyer’s abilities.
  • Remember that misleading your lawyer will only result in incomplete and inaccurate legal advice. In turn, this will lead to further problems and increased expenses down the road.
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions. The lawyer is expecting you to do so. If there is anything you do not understand about what the lawyer has told you, or about what might happen next in your situation, this is the time to find out.
  • Similarly, if it becomes obvious that your problem cannot be solved at the first meeting, you should ask the lawyer about his or her qualifications to handle your type of file through to its conclusion.
  • For example, if your case is likely to go to court, and the lawyer has not stood up in a court room for the last five years, you might want to consider using a different lawyer. If the lawyer you are meeting with has a website, you would have been able to obtain relevant information about his or her qualifications prior to your meeting. You can then fine tune what you have learned during your meeting with the lawyer.

Retainer agreement (mandate) and legal fees

  • If you decide that you want to use the lawyer for your entire case, do not be surprised if he or she suggests you sign a retainer agreement (sometimes called a “mandate”).
  • The bar associations of all Canadian provinces encourage lawyers to enter into a retainer agreement with their clients for many types of cases.  With such an agreement, you and the lawyer each understand your own responsibilities.  In addition, there will be no confusion as to the object of the legal services (example, a first application rather than an appeal).
  • If any part of the retainer agreement is not clear to you, the lawyer should explain it to your satisfaction before you sign it. This is especially true regarding fees.
  • Depending on the type of file, some lawyers might suggest a set fee (sometimes called a “flat” fee) for your type of case, while others might suggest billing by the hour. What is the lawyer’s estimate either way? How will you be required to pay? In what delay? Can you pay by monthly instalments? Can you pay with a credit card? If fees are charged on an hourly basis, are there different rates depending on who will do each part of the work (lawyer, paralegal, law student)? Are there different hourly rates depending on where the services are performed (at the law firm, at an out of office meeting or in court)? These are the types of questions you will want to ask.
  • You will also want to discuss how expenses will be handled. Expenses typically could include court or other government filing or processing fees, photocopies, fees for preparing transcripts, messenger fees, translation fees, and possibly travel expenses if your case requires work out of town. You are well-advised to ask questions such as: What dollar figures are likely for expenses in your kind of file? Will you have to make a deposit against foreseeable expenses? Will you be consulted regarding expenses beyond a certain dollar figure?

After the meeting

  • If you have decided to continue with the lawyer, normally the next meeting will be to sign the retainer agreement or, if already done, to start working on the file.
  • If you are still not sure what you want to do at the conclusion of your first meeting, do not despair. Most lawyers will not mind answering a reasonable number of follow-up questions during the days after your first meeting.
  • A suggestion: if you think it likely you will have several such questions, write them down in a list so you can ask the questions in one phone call or email rather than making separate inquiries every time you think of something. This will be more efficient both for you and for the lawyer, and will help cement a positive lawyer/client relationship if you decide to retain the lawyer’s services for the rest of your case.

If you follow these suggestions, you will get the most benefit possible from your investment in legal fees for your first meeting with a lawyer. You will be able to concentrate on the important issues and obtain informed and expert legal advice.

In a coming Blog article, we will look at how to work with your lawyer after signing the retainer agreement through to the end of your case.

Until then, kind regards.

Stephen Fogarty

Fogarty Law Firm