How Do I Choose a Lawyer?
There are two things to consider when choosing a lawyer:
- It is important that you find a lawyer who has a good record in the field in which you require assistance.
- It is just as important to find a lawyer who is sensitive to your needs and in whom you have confidence.
One way to find such a lawyer is to ask other people who have experienced similar legal problems for their recommendations. Remember though, a lawyer who has successfully handled a friend’s house sale may not be the one to handle your divorce.
You may also call Lawyer Referral Service at the telephone number listed in chapter ten of this booklet. Through the Lawyer Referral Service, you will be given the names of three lawyers who have an interest in the area of law in which you require assistance.
You may make an appointment with one or all of the lawyers, but you must tell them that you obtained their names from Lawyer Referral Service. The lawyer may see you in person or will speak to you by phone to discuss your legal problem and will not charge anything for the first thirty minutes. After that, the lawyer will charge legal fees so make sure that you time the interview and make good use of your thirty minutes.
Meeting Your Lawyer
Prepare yourself for your first appointment with a lawyer by making a list of questions. You will want to know how much experience the lawyer has in handling cases like yours, how much the entire process will cost, how you can arrange to pay, and how much will be charged for phone conversations.
Ask the lawyer what your legal rights are, whether you have a strong case and whether it is worth pursuing. If you do not understand something, say so and ask the lawyer to explain the process in clear simple language. If you are not satisfied with the lawyer after the initial appointment, or at any time during the handling of the case; find another lawyer. Once a lawyer has agreed to take on a case and has done work on your file, the lawyer does not have to give you the file until the entire bill has been paid.
If your lawyer does not send you a letter confirming the arrangement for fees, you should send one confirming the arrangement to the lawyer. Keep a copy of this letter for your own records. Any discrepancy in understanding of the terms should be addressed immediately. If your lawyer does not bill you for her services on a regular basis, and the matter is carried on for a long period of time or becomes more complicated than expected, you would be wise to contact her and ask what your costs are to date. This will give you the chance to keep track of the legal fees and to decide if the matter is worth continuing. Make notes during your appointments with your lawyer. Most lawyers will make notes of what is said during an interview or phone call. Often you may feel frightened or emotionally upset and may not remember all of what was said to you. Your notes will help to jog your memory.
Always keep in mind that the lawyer is working for you. You hired the lawyer and you are paying him or her. You have the right to know what he or she is doing on your behalf and to have input into any decisions that are made on your behalf.
What if My Lawyer Charged Me Too Much?
If there is a dispute over your lawyer’s bill for legal services, either you or your lawyer has the option to have the bill reviewed by an independent third party. This review process is called “taxation.” The third party is called a taxation officer and is a deputy of the Court of Queen’s Bench who has been specially appointed to handle fee complaints. There is a $100 fee for this process.
To tax a lawyer’s bill, you must make an “Appointment for Taxation” with the Clerk of the Court of Queen’s Bench. Generally, the Clerk will give you a sample Appointment for Taxation form to use as a guide when filling out your own form. You must make copies of the Appointment form and the lawyer’s bill and file these at the office of the Clerk of the Court of Queen’s Bench. You will then have to “serve” a copy of the Appointment and the lawyer’s bill on your lawyer. Service on your lawyer can be done in one of three ways:
Mail a copy of the documents by double registered mail and file an Affidavit of Service at the office of the Clerk of the Court. You must attach the original Appointment and the completed “proof of service” form (which you must obtain from the post office) as exhibits to your Affidavit. You may swear your Affidavit of Service in front of one of the Commissioners for Oaths at the Clerk’s Office.
Drop the Appointment off at the lawyer’s office and have someone at the office sign and date the back of the original Appointment to show that service was made. You should bring the signed original Appointment to the taxation so that you can show the taxing officer that you have proof of service.
Have a process server serve the document for you. The process server will prepare and swear an Affidavit of Service which will then be given to you so that you can show the taxation officer that you have proof of service. Since the process server will charge you for serving the documents and preparing the Affidavit, you should find out the cost of employing a process server.
Service must be completed at least five days before the taxation hearing. To calculate the five days, you do not count:
- the day on which the lawyer receives the Appointment,
- the day of the hearing,
- weekends, or
If you paid the lawyer’s bill more than six months ago, or if the bill was sent to you more than a year ago, permission of the court is needed before either you or the lawyer may have the bill taxed. The taxation office of the Court of Queen’s Bench will be able to assist you with the procedure that you must follow to get the permission of the court.
You should bring to the taxation hearing all relevant documents and correspondence that you might wish to use in support of your case. Be prepared to give the taxation officer your arguments as to why you feel the lawyer charged you too much. You and your lawyer will each have a chance to present your side of the story. The taxation officer will then make a decision, depending on the evidence, to leave the bill as it is or to reduce it. If you do not agree with the decision of the taxation officer, you may appeal the decision to a judge but your Notice of Appeal must be filed within ten days of the date when you are notified of the taxation officer’s decision. The taxation hearing is recorded in the event either party files an appeal.
What If I Have Other Complaints about My Lawyer?
If you are unhappy about the manner in which you were treated or other concerns about the way your lawyer handled your case, you may make a complaint to the Law Society of Alberta. Your complaint must be in writing. The Law Society will send a copy of your written complaint to your lawyer and give your lawyer an opportunity to respond in writing. The Law Society may recommend that you and your lawyer attend mediation at their office and attempt to reach a solution to the problem with the assistance of one of their trained mediators. If mediation is not successful, the Law Society will review your complaint and your lawyer’s reply. If your complaints are valid, there will be an investigation into the matter which could have very serious consequences for the lawyer. The Law Society will advise you of the outcome of its investigation.