Choosing a Lawyer
One of the most important decisions you will make when you are getting a divorce is determining who your lawyer will be. This is not an easy decision and not one which should be taken lightly. Some things you may want to think about are discussed below.
What kind of lawyer do you need?
It is important that you take a look at your finances and your situation in selecting a Toronto divorce lawyer. The most senior lawyers will have the most experience and will often also come with the highest price tags. If you have complex issues, this should be a significant consideration. Law firms can generally help you determine what amount of representation is required, so please don’t be afraid to ask.
It is also not necessary to hire a lawyer who will take on your whole case full-time. If your issues are relatively simple, you may only need a few meetings with your lawyer to lay out your rights and responsibilities and get a better understanding of your situation. You may then be in a perfect position to take over for yourself. Hiring a lawyer is not an all or nothing proposition. You can usually be very specific about the nature of your relationship.
Finding a lawyer
Finding a lawyer is not always easy. You may know a friend of a friend who is a lawyer or you may have a friend who got divorced and recommends his or her lawyer. Referrals from someone you trust is an excellent way to find a Toronto divorce lawyer. You should meet with that lawyer to ensure that they are the right fit for you, and find comfort knowing that you have crossed that first hurdle.
The internet is increasingly becoming a preferred resource for finding lawyers. Most law firms have websites with lawyer profiles and you can peruse these to make an initial selection.
The Law Society of Upper Canada also has a lawyer directory and referral service to help you find an appropriate lawyer. The Lawyer Referral Service can be reached at 1-800-268-8326 or 416-947-3330 (within the GTA) and will give you the name of a lawyer who will give you up to 30 minutes to assess your situation and determine your rights and options.
Choosing the lawyer
The first meeting you have with a lawyer is critical. You must feel comfortable that this person understands your situation and will be able to help you. You must find someone in whom you have confidence and who will charge an amount that seems reasonable to you.
It never hurts to interview several lawyers and get their assessment of your situation, particularly where issues are more complex. You can then weigh the different opinions and make an educated selection.
Once you choose your Toronto divorce lawyer, he or she should give you a written retainer letter explaining the nature of your relationship and the fees that will be charged. Please review this document carefully before signing it.
What will it cost?
Generally, lawyers will charge an hourly rate for their services. These hourly rates will vary greatly based on the lawyer’s experience, firm size, and other factors. It is important to note that a lower hourly rate does not necessarily mean you will end up paying less. A more experienced lawyer may be able to do things more efficiently and thus end up with a lower bill. A larger firm will also be able to divide the work out amongst various lawyers and try to get you the most efficient use of your money.
In addition to time, lawyers will charge you for disbursements associated with your file. These can be anything from photocopies and court costs to long distance phone charges and expert witnesses.
You will generally be asked to pay a retainer to the firm which will be placed in a trust account. The money will then be drawn from the trust account to cover your bills. You will then be asked to replenish the trust account as it is spent.
What if you can’t afford a lawyer?
Legal Aid Ontario provides assistance to people who cannot afford to find a lawyer on their own and who qualify for legal aid. Also, Family Law Information Centres are available at the court houses and provide free information and help with issues surrounding separation and divorce. Duty counsel in the courts can also help by reviewing documents, giving advice, assisting with negotiations and representing you on some motions or hearings.