After speaking with several of the lawyers and law clerks at our firm, here are a few things clients can do to keep their legal fees under control:
- When dropping off documents for your lawyer, make the copies (if required) yourself. Firms charge anywhere from $0.25 per page and higher.
- Use e-mail and fax to communicate with your lawyer’s office. This usually helps clients put their thoughts on paper and makes it much easier for lawyers or their staff to respond to any questions. Also, ask several questions at a time. It will save you money.
- Avoid contacting multiple people at the firm to provide them with the same information.
- Before any meetings with your lawyer, e-mail or fax any questions or issues in advance. That way, the lawyer can prepare for your meeting in advance, if necessary. It also can help shorten the meeting. By putting questions in writing, you can also follow along to see that all you needed to ask was answered. This saves you the cost of follow up calls.
- If you have a question about whether a letter has been received or the status of your matter, call the law clerk/assistant rather than the lawyer. A law clerk or legal assistant/secretary can provide you with information about the status of your matter and procedural information, not legal advice. Their hourly rate is lower than the lawyer’s so it will save you money. If they can’t answer the question, they can follow up with the lawyer and either they or the lawyer will get back to you.
- When retaining a lawyer, ask if they have a law clerk or a junior lawyer that helps them with their files. These people charge a lower rate when working on your file. Also, read the firm’s retainer and/or memorandum and understand how the firm bills its clients.
- If you have a court ordered deadline or your lawyer has asked that you provide them with documents or information by a certain date, provide it before that date. This will avoid the cost of calls to you asking where the materials are. It will avoid rushes or having to explain the delay to the other side.
- If you are required to respond to court materials, try to do it via e-mail. The lawyer can then edit the information, follow up with questions, or even cut and paste information into a court document.
- Provide your lawyer with timely instructions. Rushes cost money.
- Your lawyer is not a social worker, counsellor, psychiatrist, or psychologist. Try to limit your discussions to the legal issues at hand. Calls to complain about how horribly your spouse treated you during the marriage or how angry you are that your spouse is dating someone new are not issues that a lawyer can help you work through unless they directly relate to the matrimonial issues.
- Pick and choose your battles carefully. Spending legal fees fighting over kitchen dishes is usually not money well spent.
- Pay your legal bills on time in order to avoid any interest charges for overdue bills.
- Review your bill when you receive it. If you have any questions or concerns, address them with the lawyer or their accounts receivable department when you receive the bill rather than waiting to the end of all of the work being completed to address billing issues.
Andrew Feldstein practices family law exclusively in Markham and throughout the Greater Toronto Area. He has been interviewed by the Globe and Mail, Global Television, and Prime TV, among others, and is a Family Law instructor at the Bar Admission course.