There is no standard fee schedule for legal services. The Law Society does not set lawyer’s fees.
Before you begin using a lawyer, ask the lawyer for an explanation of their fees, and how often they will be sending you bills. This should be discussed at the first meeting you have with a lawyer.
Your lawyer may require that you sign a retainer agreement. This agreement should specify the fees that you are going to be charged, and how often you will be required to pay your lawyer. This agreement may also set out what will happen if you do not pay your lawyer when requested.
It is also possible to hire a lawyer to assist you with only part of your legal issues. This is a limited scope retainer. For more information about limited scope retainers, please see below.
BILLING PRACTICES & FEES
Some common lawyer fees are:
- Fixed Fee or Flat Rate. This type of fee may be used for specific transactions such as incorporating a business or purchasing a house. Some lawyers also use a fixed fee for specific types of court appearances such as defending a client on a minor criminal charge.
- Hourly Rate. Hourly rates usually reflect the lawyer's skill and experience. Senior lawyers often charge more per hour than lawyers who are just starting out in practice. Hourly rates often include more than just the time the lawyers pends with a client. They could include time spent by your lawyer on the phone, in meetings, doing research, preparing documents, dealing with correspondence from others, appearing in court and anything else involving your file.
- Contingency Fee. This is typically a percentage of the money the client wins in a lawsuit. If no money is recovered, the lawyer generally collects no fee. Contingency fee agreements are common in personal injury claims and class actions. If you have a contingency fee agreement with your lawyer, it has to be in writing, it has to be signed by you and his has to be filed with the Court. The contingency fee agreement may require you to pay your lawyer’s disbursements, regardless of what the outcome of the case is.
- Retainer.This is a sum of money you pay to your lawyer as a deposit for the future services the lawyer will perform for you and the future expenses the lawyer will incur on your behalf. Your lawyer will send you accounts, which will be paid out of the retainer. At the conclusion of services, if there is money left from your retainer, your lawyer is required to return it to you.
- Expenses. These are expenses (sometimes called disbursements) paid for by your lawyer on your behalf such as land titles fees, court filing fees, courier charges, photocopying costs or fees paid for expert reports from people such as doctors, psychologists or engineers that the lawyer required to obtain for your case. You are responsible for these expenses and they will be included in your legal account.
- GST. Lawyers are required to charge GST on all fees and most expenses.
Your lawyer will most often send you an account. The account will include the lawyer’s fee, as well as disbursements that your lawyer has paid for.
KEEPING YOUR LEGAL COSTS DOWN
Lawyer’s most often charge by the hour. To help keep your costs down, be organized and ready when you meet with your lawyer, whether in person or by telephone. The more often you contact your lawyer, the higher your account is likely going to be.
If you have questions, you may want to call your lawyer’s assistant rather than the lawyer, if you think the assistant will be able to help you. There may be a charge for talking to the assistant but their hourly rate is likely lower than your lawyers.
Be sure that when you make a decision about how you want your lawyer to proceed, you have thought it through carefully. Changing your instructions to your lawyer, or the actions you want your lawyer to take can also mean that your lawyer’s account will be higher. You also need to be realistic about what can be achieved – after all, you probably do not want to spend $2000 to recover $500.
LIMITED SCOPE RETAINERS
Traditionally, a person needing legal services would hire a lawyer to see the matter through from start to finish, particularly if their legal matter involves the courts. However, hiring a lawyer may not always necessary, and in some cases may not be possible. In such circumstances there are alternatives.
Some people may choose to represent themselves in court. This is rarely efficient or effective because unrepresented parties not only have to educate themselves on court rules and procedures, but they lack the experience to know what kinds of evidence, or how much evidence, they need to present to the court.
There is a third option that falls between having a lawyer act for you in all parts of your legal process, and representing yourself. You can hire a lawyer to do only certain specific things. This is known as a limited scope retainer. Agreeing to a limited scope retainer means that a lawyer agrees to represent you for some, but not all of a legal matter. For example, an individual preparing for a hearing before a judge in a family court matter might retain a lawyer to help prepare by explaining what documents will be required, how to fill them out, and what kinds of questions to expect from the judge. Or an individual might hire a lawyer to prepare the documents necessary to start a court action.
Limited scope retainers are new. Not all lawyers who practice in the NWT offer this service.
DISPUTES INVOLVING FEES
The Law Society does not have jurisdiction to address complaints or disputes between you and your lawyer regarding fees.
If you don’t understand some of the items on your lawyer’s account or if you disagree with the amount, talk it over with your lawyer. Go over the details and ask the lawyer to explain why a particular charge was made.
If you and your lawyer cannot resolve your disagreement, you may pursue a fee review through the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories. More information on fee reviews can be found in the Rules of the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories under "Taxation of Solicitor and Client Bill of Costs" (rules 681-697).