Working with a Lawyer

Law

Lawyers can help with your family law matters. See the sections below for information about:

  • What lawyers do (including unbundled legal services, limited scope retainers, and independent legal advice)
  • How lawyers can help you stay out of court
  • How to find a lawyer
  • How to hire a lawyer
  • How much lawyers cost and how they are paid (including retainers, fees, and “disbursements”)
  • How to work well with your lawyer
  • What you can do if you are unhappy with your lawyer

Choose the Process tab above for lawyer directories, checklists to prepare for your meetings, and other steps you may need to take.

Please read “Who is this Information Page for?” just below to make sure you are on the right page.

LegalAve provides general legal information, not legal advice. Learn more here.

Last Reviewed: August 2017
Who is this Information Page for?

This Information Page is about working with a lawyer to help you solve family law issues. There are many ways for you to solve your family law issues; working with a lawyer is just one way to do it. This Information Page will tell you the basics about what lawyers do, how to find and hire a lawyer, and how to work effectively with a lawyer.

Most people only think about having a lawyer if they are solving a legal problem in court.

However, a lawyer is often able to help you resolve issues without going to court. In fact, much of a lawyer’s time is spent trying to help parties solve their issues without going to court. Or, your legal issue may not be one that requires going to court. In these cases, a lawyer may be able to help you sort through and process complicated paperwork. A lawyer can also advocate on your behalf with other parties who are involved in a legal dispute.

If you do not want to be represented by a lawyer in the traditional way, there are still many ways to solve your legal issue. You may want to try to come to an agreement with the other people involved, or you may want some help from another trained person (not necessarily a lawyer) who can work with your family to solve your legal issues out of court. Sometimes you can—or you may have to—involve a lawyer in these processes as well. For more information on either of these options, see the Coming to an Agreement on Your Own Information Page and the Alternative Dispute Resolution Information Page.

There are also community legal resources that provide help with legal issues. These organizations can give you information about the law. They may be able to let you see a lawyer for free legal advice if you are unable to hire one on your own. They may also be able to help you fill out court forms, find someone to go with you to court, or teach you about court processes. For more information, see the Community Legal Resources & Legal Aid Information Page.

If you end up going to court to solve your legal issues, you can be represented by a lawyer, or you can represent yourself. If you plan to go to court to resolve your family legal problems on your own, see the Representing Yourself in Court Information Page. Even if you plan to represent yourself in court, a lawyer can help you along the way with legal advice about certain topics. Keep reading this Information Page to find out more about the many ways a lawyer can help you solve your legal issues—both in and out of court.

Whether or not you decide to work with a lawyer, it may be helpful to educate yourself about how our legal system works. For more information, see the following Information Pages:

You are currently on the Law tab of this Information Page, which has general information about what is involved in hiring a lawyer. For information on the process of finding and working with a lawyer, click on the Process tab above. There is also important information in the Common Questions and Myths tabs above.

The first topic is What the words mean. Please read this section even if you think you already know what the words mean. In order to understand the resources on this page, you will need to understand the legal terms.

What the words mean

These words are not listed alphabetically—they are in the order that makes it easiest to understand the complete legal picture.

If you are looking for a specific term, you can use the Glossary, which is in alphabetical order.

legal information

General statements about the law that do not apply to any specific person’s situation. Legal information is available to the public on websites, in print, and in person. It helps people understand:

  • the law;
  • the nature of their legal issues; and
  • how to solve legal problems (both in court and out of court).

Legal information is different from legal advice. Legal information tells you “the options that are available,” while legal advice generally tells you “this is the best option for you.”

To learn more about the difference between legal information and legal advice, see the following resources.

PDF Legal Information vs. Legal Advice: What is the Difference?
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Legal information is not the same as legal advice
Community Legal Education Ontario
English

PDF Helping Clients with Legal Issues: Legal Information for Frontline Service Providers
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See p. 15-16.

legal advice

Guidance that is provided by lawyers (or law students supervised by lawyers) after learning about a person’s legal issues. The lawyer or law student uses their legal knowledge and expertise to come up with the “best options” for a particular client, based on what the client hopes to achieve.

Legal advice tells people:

  • how the law applies to their specific situations; and
  • what they should do about their legal problem. This includes what exactly to write on court forms and what to say in court.

Legal advice is different from legal information. Legal information tells you “the options that are available,” while legal advice generally tells you “this is the best option for you.”

To learn more about the difference between legal information and legal advice, see the following resources.

PDF Legal Information vs. Legal Advice: What is the Difference?
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Legal information is not the same as legal advice
Community Legal Education Ontario
English

PDF Helping Clients with Legal Issues: Legal Information for Frontline Service Providers
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See p. 15-16.

lawyer

A person who has received extensive professional training and is certified by at least one provincial “law society” to practice law—a law society is an organization that has power over all the lawyers in a province. The legal training lawyers receive in Canada allows them to “go to court” or do legal work outside of court, although most lawyers tend to do one more than the other.

There are many different terms used to describe lawyers and it can be quite confusing. Here are some common names that describe certain types of lawyers:

  • barrister / litigator: typically describes a lawyer who goes to court for his or her client. This involves work to prepare for court (such as filing the necessary paperwork) and negotiating with the other parties involved in a legal dispute.
  • solicitor: typically describes a lawyer who does not represent clients in court. This is not because he or she isn’t qualified to do so, but because of the nature of the legal work solicitors do. Solicitors often perform “transactional legal work,” which includes things like buying and selling properties, writing wills, and setting up new companies.
  • attorney: this term is commonly used in the United States to refer to lawyers (both barristers and solicitors). This is not a term used for lawyers in Canada.
  • counsel: another word for “lawyer” or “advice” (as in receiving “legal counsel”)

In Canada, any lawyer can have title “Barrister & Solicitor.” Having this title doesn’t necessarily mean a lawyer will do both types of work.

To learn more about the differences in terminology, see the following resources.

Web What’s in a name: how lawyers describe themselves
Patriot Law Group
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web Barrister or Solicitor?
Alexander Holburn Beaudin + Lang LLP
English
This is a private source. Learn more here. This resource is intended for law students, but has good general information for everyone.

retainer

A fee you pay a lawyer to secure his or her legal services and to cover future legal fees and expenses.

retainer agreement (also called an “engagement letter”)

An agreement you sign with a lawyer to “officially” hire him or her as your lawyer. This agreement explains various things, including:

  • a description of the work to be done,
  • a description of how fees and expenses (also called “disbursements”) will be calculated and charged,
  • the roles of the lawyer and the client,
  • how the lawyer and client will communicate with each other, and
  • what will happen if the fees are not paid.

Most times, when you hire a lawyer, you will pay the retainer and sign the retainer agreement at the same time.

limited scope retainer (also called “unbundled legal services”)

In this type of arrangement, a lawyer is hired by a client to only perform certain agreed-upon legal duties, rather than providing full representation for the entire case. For example, your lawyer might draft a document for you, but instead of your lawyer filing that document at the courthouse for you, you will file it yourself. Or your lawyer might prepare legal arguments and do legal research for you, but you will represent yourself in court.

This arrangement makes legal advice more accessible for people who cannot afford a lawyer for their whole case, or prefer not to hire a lawyer to act for them on all legal matters.

legal fees and disbursements

The typical items you will see on a lawyer’s bill. Legal fees are what lawyers charge for their legal services, while disbursements are costs the lawyers pay on behalf of their clients. Disbursements may include things like: the cost of ordering a necessary document for a case, photocopying legal documents, hiring a courier to deliver documents, and hiring an investigator or medical expert.

solicitor-client privilege

The right of a lawyer’s client to have certain communication between themselves and their lawyer kept private. This includes verbal, written, or other methods of communication.

The client can give up (“waive”) the right of privilege. This would then allow the client or the lawyer to share the information that was discussed between them.

Solicitor-client privilege is a complex concept. For more information, see the “Solicitor-client privilege and the duty of confidentiality” section below.

duty of confidentiality

The ethical duty of every lawyer to keep all of the information he or she learns while working for a client confidential—the lawyer cannot share the information with anyone else, unless he or she has permission from the client. This is true regardless of the source of the information. For example, a lawyer is helping a client who owns a restaurant with his divorce, and the lawyer somehow learns about the client’s secret recipe. The lawyer must not share the recipe with anyone else, regardless of whether the lawyer learned it from the client, a business valuator, or through his or her own research.

The duty of confidentiality is a complex concept. For more information, see the “Solicitor-client privilege and the duty of confidentiality” section below.

conflict of interest

When a person cannot perform his or her duties properly because of his or her involvement with another person or organization. Lawyers may have a conflict of interest if they cannot act in the best interests of their clients because of their relationships with other people or organizations. For example, a lawyer acting for both spouses in a divorce can be seen to be a conflict of interest.

self-represented litigant

A person who is not represented by a lawyer in a court action. Someone who has a “limited scope retainer” or is getting “unbundled legal services” can still be a self-represented litigant if they are not represented by a lawyer in court.

independent legal advice

Guidance from a lawyer about a contract a person wants to sign before they sign the contract. The lawyer makes sure that the person understands the law and legal consequences of the contract, including the person’s rights and responsibilities. In order for the advice to be “independent,” both you and the other party must have your own lawyer. You cannot both go to the same law firm.  

party

Any person involved in a dispute. It can also refer to each of the people who sign a contract.

third party

In court processes, this term refers to someone who is not directly involved in a legal disagreement, but who is affected by the results of the dispute. For example: in family law cases, the bank who gave the mortgage on the family home is a “third party.” However, on this website we also use the term “third party” to refer to people who are not directly involved in a legal disagreement but are connected to it in some other way. For example: two people who are separating might hire a mediator to help them resolve their issues—that mediator will be called a “third party.”

The laws that may apply to you

When dealing with a legal issue, you may wish to read the laws (also called “statutes” or “acts”) that apply to your situation. The laws included on this Information Page are:

Web Legal Profession Act
Government of Alberta
English

Web Act, Code & Rules
Law Society of Alberta
English

Web Regulation
Law Society of Alberta
English
Who are lawyers?

Lawyers are people who have extensive legal training and have been certified to do legal work and give legal advice. In Canada, in addition to going to law school, every law student must spend one year learning how to practice law—this is called “articling.”

Although all lawyers have similar basic training, most lawyers are more familiar with certain areas of law than others (often a result of their articling experience). For example, a lawyer may have experience with criminal law, employment law, or family law. When you are looking for a lawyer to help you with your family law issues, it is important to find a lawyer who is familiar with family law and the particular issues you are facing.

For more information about lawyers’ training and the legal profession, see the following resources. Note that these resources are from a private source. Learn more here.



What do lawyers do?

Canadian-trained lawyers are qualified to do legal work both in and out of the courtroom. Litigators (also called “barristers”) are lawyers who advocate in court for their clients. These lawyers also have to do the preparatory work involved with going to court. These lawyers are what you would typically see on TV. Other lawyers (commonly called “solicitors”) do not argue in court for their clients. Instead, these lawyers “create things” and perform transactions for their clients. This could be anything from buying or selling a property, to writing a will, to setting up a new corporation.

Not all lawyers are divided along these lines. Some lawyers will specialize in certain types of law (for example: family law or business law) and do both courtroom work and “out-of-court” work. For example, a family lawyer may spend most of his or her time drafting family law agreements (such as pre-nuptial agreements or separation agreements). However, this lawyer may go to court sometimes if one of his or her clients cannot come to an agreement with the other party involved.

Whether or not a lawyer goes to court, a big part of his or her job is to give legal advice to his or her clients. Legal advice tells you what you should do (in your lawyer’s opinion). On the other hand, legal information tells what you could do. Many resources can provide you with legal information (including this website). In Alberta, only lawyers can give you legal advice.

Be Aware

In other provinces, the rules about who can give legal advice can be different. In some provinces, notaries can give legal advice.

A lawyer’s advice is only as good as the information that is given to him or her. Make sure you give your lawyer as much information as you can so that you get the best legal advice possible. If you are giving too much information, your lawyer will let you know. Some things might not seem relevant to you, but it could make a difference from a legal standpoint.

For more information about what lawyers do and how they might be able to assist you, see the following resources.

Web How Lawyers Help
Justice Education Society
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web What do lawyers do?
Canadian Judicial Council
English

Web Le rôle des avocats
Canadian Judicial Council
French

Web Public: FAQ
Law Society of Alberta
English

Web Working with a Lawyer
Law Society of Alberta
English

Web Working with your lawyer
Legal Aid Alberta
English

PDF Parenting After Separation (PAS) Parent's Guide
Government of Alberta
English
Start on p. 9.

PDF Great Expectations: A lawyer-client handbook
Canadian Bar Association
English

Web Getting legal advice & finding a lawyer
Family Law Nova Scotia
English

Web You and your lawyer
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Vous et votre avocat
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
French
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web You & Your Lawyer
Clicklaw
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Video Family Law Lawyers
AdviceScene (via YouTube)
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.
Family Violence

PDF Working with a Family Law Lawyer
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

What do family lawyers do in particular?

Family lawyers are lawyers who specialize in family law issues. Some common tasks a family lawyer might do include:

  • drafting domestic contracts (such as a cohabitation agreement, pre-nuptial agreement, or separation agreement);
  • helping clients with their divorce and division of property;
  • helping clients apply for child and spousal support;
  • dealing with issues that arise when there is family violence; and
  • helping clients plan for illness and death.

Most family lawyers should be able to deal with other legal issues that stem from family issues. For example, if you and your spouse are getting a divorce, and you plan to sell your matrimonial home and create separate wills, your family lawyer may be able to handle all those things for you.

Keep in mind that not all family lawyers are the same. For example, some family lawyers choose to not go to court, while others might not want to deal with issues relating to children. Be sure to talk to your lawyer about what kind of service he or she is willing to provide.

Like all lawyers, family lawyers provide legal advice based on the information you give them. They will tell you what your rights and responsibilities are under the law. Family lawyers should be familiar with how emotional family law issues can be for their clients, but remember, they are not therapists.

See the following resources for information about what your family law lawyer can do for you.

Video Next Steps in your Family Law Case
Feldstein Family Law Group
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Video What You Can Expect from Your Family Law Lawyer
Feldstein Family Law Group
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Video The Benefits of Hiring a Lawyer who Practises Family Law Exclusively
Feldstein Family Law Group
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web What’s Covered in a Divorce Consultation?
Fine & Associates Professional Corporation
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

The following resource is not available online. The link below will give you an overview of the resource, and you can find the full text at libraries across Alberta. For more information about using these libraries, see the Educating Yourself: Legal Research Information Page.

Book Surviving Your Divorce: A Guide to Canadian Family Law
Michael G. Cochrane
English
Access the full book from a library: Alberta Law Libraries / The Alberta Library. See Chapter 2.

When it’s more than just a family law issue

If your family law issue crosses over with another area of law (such as criminal law or immigration law), you may need to search for a lawyer who has experience in both areas. If you cannot find a single lawyer who practices in the areas of law that are relevant for your legal matter, you may have to hire two or more lawyers to cover different aspects of your legal matter.

For example, if you are applying for a child support order but the other parent is in jail, then you would need a lawyer who is familiar with both family law and criminal law, or a family lawyer and a criminal lawyer. If you end up hiring more than one lawyer, make sure each lawyer knows about and communicates with the other lawyer(s).

Types of legal services offered by lawyers: Alternative dispute resolution, unbundled legal services, and independent legal advice

Legal services today are different from the “traditional” services we often think about with lawyers. Lawyers today offer many different services than simply “going to court.” These include:

  • alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services;
  • “unbundled” legal services; and
  • providing independent legal advice.

More information on each of these is just below.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services

Some lawyers can help you with alternative dispute resolution (ADR). ADR refers to “out-of-court” methods to resolve disputes, such as mediation, arbitration, and collaborative family law. These methods can have a variety of benefits for the people involved, including more control over their legal matter and reduced costs.

Lawyers can either lead the ADR session for the parties involved, or they can assist you on the side while you are going through ADR by reviewing the terms of an agreement and giving legal advice. For more information about ADR, see the Alternative Dispute Resolution Information Page.

For more information about the role of a lawyer during ADR, see the following resource.

Video A Lawyer’s Role in the Mediation Process
Feldstein Family Law Group
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

“Unbundled” legal services

“Unbundled” legal services (also called “limited scope retainers”) is a new way of delivering legal services that has become popular in recent years.

Traditionally, when you hire a lawyer, the lawyer handles every aspect of your case. This is called “full service representation” and it can be expensive. Some lawyers now offer “unbundled services” or “limited scope retainers.” In this type of arrangement, you and your lawyer will share the work that needs to be done for your case. This type of service is usually more affordable than full service representation and allows you to be more involved in your own case.

With unbundled legal services, your lawyer will do the more complicated legal work, leaving you to do the simpler work. For example, your lawyer might draft a document for you, but instead of your lawyer filing that document at the courthouse for you, you will file it yourself. Or your lawyer might prepare legal arguments and do legal research for you, but you will represent yourself in court. In this way, you don’t have to pay the lawyer for his or her time to do something that you are willing to do yourself.

For more information about unbundled legal services, see the following resources.

Web How Lawyers Help
Justice Education Society
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here. See “Unbundled legal services.”

PDF The Nuts & Bolts of Unbundling: A NSRLP Resource for Lawyers Considering Offering Unbundled Legal Services
The National Self-Represented Litigants Project
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here. This resource is written for lawyers, but has helpful information for people considering using "unbundled" legal services for help with part of their case.

Web Limited Legal Services
Limited Legal Services Project
English

Web About the Project
Limited Legal Services Project
English

Web Keeping Legal Costs Down
Barriston Law LLP
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Client Handout: What Is Limited Scope Representation?
Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Client Handout: Limited Scope Representation Flow Chart
Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Independent legal advice

Sometimes it is more affordable and efficient for the parties involved in a family law issue to have the same lawyer for most of the process, especially when there are no major disagreements between the parties. But there will be times where the parties should—or even must—get “independent legal advice” on a legal matter, even when there are no major disagreements.

Independent legal advice means that a lawyer makes sure that a client understands the law and legal consequences about what he or she is doing, including the person’s rights and responsibilities. This advice is given to a single party, separately from any other person involved in the legal matter.

For example, if Alex and Taylor are soon to be married, and Alex wants to hire a lawyer to create a pre-nuptial agreement, then Taylor should take the agreement to a different lawyer for legal advice about the agreement. This advice should be given apart from Alex and before they sign the agreement.

Be Aware

For certain agreements (such as agreements dealing with matrimonial property), independent legal advice is required for the agreement to be binding under the law. However, it is a good idea to get independent legal advice before signing any agreement to make sure (to the best of your ability) that the agreement will stand up in court.

For more information about getting independent legal advice for a separation agreement, see the following resources.

Web Why you need independent legal advice for a separation agreement
Patriot Law Group
English
​This is a private source. Learn more here.

Video Certificate of Independent Legal Advice
Kahane Law Office
English
​This is a private source. Learn more here.
Do I need a lawyer or can I do it myself?

There are situations where you must get independent legal advice from a lawyer, such as when you sign an agreement about dividing matrimonial property. However, you have the option to deal with most family law issues without a lawyer.

Even if you are not required to have a lawyer, it is often beneficial to get at least some legal advice. If you sign an agreement without speaking to a lawyer, you may be giving up your rights or entitlements under the law without even knowing it. If you later find out that you signed an unfair agreement, it can be very difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to fix.

Working with a lawyer doesn’t mean you have to go to court, and going to court doesn’t mean you have to have a lawyer. Most cases are settled out of court, even when both parties have lawyers. If you are going to court but are not working with a lawyer, you will be a “self-represented litigant.” For more information about this, see the Representing Yourself in Court Information Page.

You may want to work with a lawyer whether or not you want to go to court. If you do end up going to court, the court processes you see on TV are very different from what happens in real life. You will have to learn the relevant laws (including “case law”), as well as the processes and rules of court. These can include things like: when certain paperwork has to be filed, what has to be included in the paperwork you file, and what evidence is acceptable in court. Do not expect to just walk into the courtroom and “tell your story.”

There are many benefits of working with a lawyer, including:

  • Lawyers are trained to deal with paperwork that can be lengthy and complicated. If you are not working with a lawyer, you will have to take the time to fill out the necessary paperwork.
  • A lawyer can represent you in court without you being there. This may be helpful if you have a busy schedule and cannot easily take time to be in court yourself. Also, court processes and etiquette can be very different than what you are used to; having a lawyer may save you the trouble of learning them.
  • A lawyer may help the negotiation and settlement process by being a buffer between you and the other party. This is especially helpful if you do not feel comfortable dealing with the other party on your own, and can include anything from serving documents on the other party to meeting them in or out of court.
  • A lawyer with courtroom experience is usually able to communicate effectively with judges and other parties involved in a legal matter. This might lead to a better and quicker outcome than doing it yourself.

For more information about when getting advice is beneficial, see the following resources.

Web Public: FAQ
Law Society of Alberta
English

Audio/Web You and Your Lawyer
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web What do lawyers do?
Canadian Judicial Council
English

Web Le rôle des avocats
Canadian Judicial Council
French

Video Independent Legal Advice and Separation Agreements
Feldstein Family Law Group
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Video Five Reasons You Need a Family Law Lawyer
Feldstein Family Law Group
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web Family Lawyers Edmonton
Edmonton Community Legal Centre
English

PDF Great Expectations: A lawyer-client handbook
Canadian Bar Association
English

Web You and your lawyer
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Vous et votre avocat
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
French
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Video Why should I see a lawyer and how do I find one?
Family Law NB
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Video Pourquoi devrais-je voir un avocat et comment en trouver un?
Family Law NB
French
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Getting legal advice & finding a lawyer
Family Law Nova Scotia
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here. See “Why do I need legal advice?”

Webinar Looking for a Family Law Lawyer
Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here. Start at 24:15.

PDF How to avoid surprises
Canadian Bar Association
English

PDF Comment éviter les surprises
Canadian Bar Association
French

The following resource is not available online. The link below will give you an overview of the resource, and you can find the full text at libraries across Alberta. For more information about using these libraries, see the Educating Yourself: Legal Research Information Page.

Book For better or for worse: a Canadian guide to marriage contracts and cohabitation agreements
Michael G. Cochrane
English
Access the full book from a library: Alberta Law Libraries / The Alberta Library. See Chapter 7.

For various reasons, you may decide to represent yourself instead of working with a lawyer. For more information about representing yourself in court, navigating our legal system, and preparing your own case, see the following Information Pages:

Can court staff help instead?

Court staff are the people who work for the courts. They are the people you speak to if you have questions about the courts or are filing documents. Court staff may or may not have legal training.

By law, court staff cannot provide you with legal advice. Court staff must also, at all times, remain impartial and not take sides on your legal matter.

However, court staff can give you legal information, such as:

  • giving you the correct court forms,
  • checking over your documents to make sure they satisfy the rules of court, and
  • explaining how a hearing or trial might work.

You do not have to be self-represented to ask court staff for help. You can have a lawyer but still get help from court staff when you are at the courthouse. Also, being self-represented doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go to court. If you are entering into a contract with another party, and you do not have a lawyer, you are representing yourself even though you may never enter a courtroom.

If your legal issue doesn’t involve going to court, then there is very little court staff can do to help you. For example, if you want to create a cohabitation agreement, court staff cannot tell you what to put in it, how to draft it, or whether the terms are favorable for you. This would all be considered legal advice.

Sometimes, you may think you are asking for information when you are really looking for advice. In these cases, court staff are likely to direct you to a lawyer. This isn’t because they do not want to help you, it is because they are not allowed to give legal advice.

If you have questions about “standard procedures,” like what form you should use for a certain issue, court staff are a great source of knowledge. But if you find yourself asking questions that start with “What should I do if/when…,” then you are likely looking for legal advice, in which case you should contact a lawyer.

For more information about what court staff can and cannot do, see the following resource.

PDF Need help? With how the court works
Family Law Nova Scotia
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.
Can Resolution Services help instead?

Resolution and Court Administration Services (RCAS) is a group of programs and services offered by the Alberta government to help people resolve their legal matters. RCAS staff:

  • help you stay out of court when possible;
  • help with the court process and forms if you go to court; and
  • offer free or low-cost programs to help families with the legal system.

However, court staff and RCAS staff cannot give legal advice. If you need legal advice, you will need to contact a lawyer. Sometimes, you may think you are asking these staff members for information when you are really looking for advice. In these cases, they are likely to direct you to a lawyer. This isn’t because they do not want to help you, it is because they are not allowed to give legal advice.

For more information about how RCAS can help you, see the Representing Yourself in Court Information Page and the following resource.

Web Resolution and Court Administration Services
Government of Alberta
English
Be Aware

These services used to be called Family Justice Services, Family Law Information Centres, and Law Information Centres. They are now together as a single point of contact to help Albertans with legal matters. However, you might still see some resources that call those services by their old names.

Can paralegals help instead?

Paralegals are people who are trained to assist with certain legal issues, but not all legal issues.

Some of the things a paralegal can help with include:

  • helping you with completing court forms;
  • doing legal research;
  • preparing legal documents; and
  • sometimes even helping you in court.

Paralegals can sometimes do more complicated legal work under the supervision of a lawyer, but a paralegal can never provide legal advice.

You can find paralegals in the yellow pages of the telephone book or online at YellowPages.ca.

How do you know if a particular lawyer is right for you?

The lawyer-client relationship is very much a partnership. To work together effectively, you must find a lawyer that “fits” well with you and your family law issue. There is no scientific formula to finding the right lawyer. A lot of the time, it is a “gut feeling.” Don’t be afraid to ask questions; you should feel comfortable talking to your lawyer since communication is a very important part of the lawyer-client relationship.

Although it is important to pick a lawyer who is good at his or her job, there are other factors you may also want to consider, including the following.

  • Skills and experience: Has this lawyer worked on legal issues similar to yours? How long has he or she been doing this type of work?
  • Communication: How and how often will this lawyer communicate with you about your case? Are you comfortable with it? Do you prefer if you were more or less involved?
  • Personality and style: Do you feel comfortable talking to this lawyer? Does the way he or she acts put you at ease?
  • Language: If you are not a native English speaker and are more comfortable speaking a language other than English, is this lawyer able to give you legal advice in your preferred language?
  • Fee structure: Are you able to afford this lawyer?

For more information about selecting the right lawyer for you, see the following resources.

Web Public: FAQ
Law Society of Alberta
English

PDF Parenting After Separation (PAS) Parent's Guide
Government of Alberta
English
Start on p. 109.

Web Legal Help for Women
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web You and your lawyer
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Vous et votre avocat
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
French
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Great Expectations: A lawyer-client handbook
Canadian Bar Association
English

Webinar Looking for a Family Law Lawyer
Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here. Start at 44:30.

Video In The Know - How to pick the right lawyer
Feldstein Family Law Group
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

The following resource is not available online. The link below will give you an overview of the resource, and you can find the full text at libraries across Alberta. For more information about using these libraries, see the Educating Yourself: Legal Research Information Page.

Book Surviving Your Divorce: A Guide to Canadian Family Law
Michael G. Cochrane
English
Access the full book from a library: Alberta Law Libraries / The Alberta LibrarySee p. 24-27.
Family Violence

 

PDF Working with a Family Law Lawyer
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Working with Your Lawyer: A Toolkit for Survivors of Domestic Abuse - Expectations
Government of Ontario
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Working with Your Lawyer: A Toolkit for Survivors of Domestic Abuse - Communications
Government of Ontario
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Working with Your Lawyer: A Toolkit for Survivors of Domestic Abuse - Decision-making
Government of Ontario
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Looking for a Lawyer? Advice for finding the right attorney for you and your case
domesticshelters.org
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

For information specific to choosing a lawyer if you are Aboriginal, see the following resources.

PDF Aboriginal Parenting After Separation (Handbook)
Justice Education Society
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Why is it important to tell your lawyer you are Aboriginal?
Legal Aid Ontario
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Pourquoi est-il important d’annoncer à votre avocat que vous êtes autochtone?
Legal Aid Ontario
French
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.
When does a lawyer become “your” lawyer?

Typically, at the end of the first meeting (or at some point during the meeting), you and the lawyer will make a commitment to work with each other (or not). If you choose to work with this particular lawyer, you will generally go through some formal process to secure his or her services. Usually this process will include signing a retainer agreement and paying a retainer. Sometimes, the fee can be paid at a later time. However, your lawyer might not give you any legal advice or take any action on your case until the retainer has been paid. In emergency situations, a lawyer may be willing to perform some limited tasks before receiving the retainer. For more information about retainers, see the “How much do lawyers cost and how do they get paid?” section below.

Every lawyer and law firm may have a different process. Ask your lawyer about his or her process to ensure that you properly establish a lawyer-client relationship.

It is not a requirement that you hire a lawyer just because you meet with him or her. Don’t feel obligated to hire a lawyer if you do not feel comfortable with him or her. It may be better in the long run to spend an extra bit of money on an initial meeting that didn’t lead to a lawyer-client relationship rather than hiring a lawyer you don’t feel comfortable working with.

How can I work well with my lawyer?

A big part of working well with your lawyer is choosing a lawyer that “fits” well with you and your family law issue. See the “How do you know if a particular lawyer is right for you?” section above for some considerations when choosing a lawyer.

After you have chosen a lawyer who meets your needs in terms of knowledge, skills, work style, and personality, see the Process tab of this Information Page for some other things you can do to make sure you work well together.

What to expect from your lawyer

Because lawyers are trained professionals, anyone working with a lawyer can and should have some basic expectations for his or her lawyer. Below are some of the things everyone can expect from their lawyer.

Professionalism

A lawyer should provide you with quality service and treat you with respect. Your lawyer will expect the same level of respect in return.

Generally, your lawyer should keep you updated on the progress of your case, as he or she must take instruction from you. This doesn’t mean your lawyer will be able to tell you the progress of your case at all times. Also, every lawyer is different in their communication style: some lawyers may contact you once every two weeks to let you know how your case is progressing, while other lawyers will contact you only as needed.

Competence

Although lawyers are highly skilled professionals, they are still going to make mistakes from time to time. However, a lawyer should be able to perform the legal work he or she was hired to do (this is called being “competent”). If a lawyer feels that he or she is unable to competently represent you for a legal matter, then he or she must tell you. This is a reason why you should always hire a lawyer who has experience with your legal issue.

If your lawyer is incompetent or negligent (meaning he or she is not capable of doing the legal work of any reasonable lawyer), and you were harmed because of it, you may be able to sue the lawyer for professional negligence. However, “professional negligence” is much more than making a small mistake or not getting you the result you wanted. For more information about this, see the “What if I am unhappy with my lawyer?” section below.

Avoiding conflicts of interest and maintaining confidentiality

Your lawyer must not put himself or herself in situations where he or she cannot effectively represent you. That means your lawyer cannot represent someone whose interests conflict with yours in the same legal matter (assuming you hired the lawyer first). For example, a lawyer will generally not represent both sides in a divorce.

Your lawyer must also keep your conversations confidential and cannot release any information to others without your consent. This would include your family members as well. Keep in mind, this does not cover communication that helps the commission of a crime or fraud or if it is a concern for public safety. For more information about this, see “Solicitor-client privilege and the duty of confidentiality” section below.

For more information about what you can expect from a lawyer, see the following resources.

Audio/Web You and Your Lawyer
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web How Lawyers Help
Justice Education Society
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here. See "What to Expect from a Lawyer."

PDF Great Expectations: A lawyer-client handbook
Canadian Bar Association
English

Web What you can expect from a lawyer
Legal Services Society
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web What Can You Expect From Your Lawyer?
Nolo Network
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web What to Expect From Your Lawyer
FindLaw
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web What You Should Expect From a Lawyer
Nolo Network
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Working with your lawyer
Legal Aid Alberta
English

Web The Roles and Responsibilities of Client and Lawyer
Patriot Law Group
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web Fact Sheets: Working With Your Lawyer
Legal Aid Saskatchewan
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Working with your lawyer
Legal Aid Ontario
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF What You Should Expect from Your Legal Aid Lawyer
Legal Services Society
Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Punjabi, Spanish, Vietnamese
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Video Client’s Expectation of a Lawyer in an Initial Consultation
Feldstein Family Law Group
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.
What NOT to expect from your lawyer

Mind-reading

Lawyers have legal expertise but they do not know your circumstances the way you do. Do not expect your lawyer to be able to read your mind. Make sure you communicate with your lawyer about your needs and concerns.

Immediate responses

Any family lawyer will have more than just one client, so don’t be shocked when your lawyer doesn’t always pick up the phone when you call. Although a lawyer may be working on many cases at once, this should not result in any unreasonable delays for your case. For example, a reasonably competent lawyer should not miss a deadline to file a lawsuit.

A guaranteed “win”

A lawyer will not magically change the facts of your case. The lawyer may do everything in his or her power to fight for your interests, but a court may simply disagree. You should have realistic expectations about what might be some possible outcomes of your case. A good lawyer should be able to tell you what these possible outcomes are ahead of time.

Unlike what is often seen on TV, lawyers will not do anything just to win a case. Lawyers are bound by professional codes of conduct, and they have ethical standards. As such, don’t expect lawyers to do anything against their code of conduct or against the law. For example, an ethical lawyer will not hide incriminating evidence for you, or lie to the other party, or lie to the court. Also, don’t expect your lawyer to insult the other party or make very unreasonable demands, as his or her professional reputation is at risk as well. It is important to know that a lawyer can quit the case (“withdraw”) if he or she is asked to do unreasonable things.

Always telling you things you want to hear

Your lawyer is on your side, and he or she will generally do what you ask him or her to do. However, expect your lawyer to tell you if you are making a poor legal decision. In providing you with legal advice, a lawyer will tell you what the law says and how it applies to your situation. He or she will likely also tell you what is in your best interest, what actions you can or should take, and what will likely happen if your case goes to court.

However, the advice your lawyer gives you will not always be pleasing to hear. For example, if a client wants to get out of paying for child support for his or her own child, any good lawyer will tell the client that it is not possible to not pay child support in Canada. It might not be what the client wants to hear, but it is the truth.

Being your best friend, therapist, or accountant

As much as lawyers want to help you solve your problems, their expertise is limited to legal issues. Since you are paying for the time a lawyer spends with you, it is important to use that time effectively. Family law issues can be difficult to deal with on your own, you may want to reach out to a friend or perhaps find a counsellor or therapist to help you deal with the emotional side of your legal issue.

For information about how counselling might be helpful for you and your family during times when you are dealing with family law issues, see the following resources.

Web Separation and Divorce
Canadian Mental Health Association
English

Video Counselling and Family Law
Feldstein Family Law Group
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

See the following resources to find help with financial issues.


Interactive Find a CPA
Chartered Professional Accountants of Alberta
English

Interactive Find an accounting firm
Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada
English
Solicitor-client privilege and the duty of confidentiality

When someone hires a lawyer, both the “duty of confidentiality” and “solicitor-client privilege” apply. Although there are differences between these two concepts, in family law, they generally mean the same thing: you can talk your lawyer your family law issue openly and freely without having to worry about a third party learning about it (unless you allow your lawyer to share your information).

In this way, a client can tell his or her lawyer the “full story” when seeking legal advice, and by having the “full story,” the lawyer can give his or her client the best legal advice possible.

The difference between the duty of confidentiality and solicitor-client privilege

The duty of confidentiality is an ethical obligation of lawyers to keep all of the information he or she learns while working for a client confidential—that is, the lawyer cannot share the information with anyone else, unless he or she has permission from the client. This duty extends to all the information a lawyer learns while working for a client, regardless of how the lawyer learned about it. For example, a lawyer is helping a client who owns a restaurant with his divorce, and the lawyer somehow learns about the client’s secret recipe. The lawyer must not share the recipe with anyone else regardless whether the lawyer learned it from the client, a business valuator, or through his or her own research. This duty is written into the Code of Conduct that all lawyers must follow. When a lawyer works for a law firm, this duty also extends to the entire law firm as well as the staff at the law firm.

Solicitor-client privilege, on the other hand, does not apply to all the information a lawyer learns while working for a client, but only the communication that occurs between the lawyer and his or her client. This is a rule of evidence, and it means that if (for some reason) your lawyer had to testify against you in court, he or she cannot be forced to discuss the communication that is covered by solicitor-client privilege. Verbal, written, or other methods of communication are all subject to solicitor-client privilege. This is the right of a lawyer’s client to have certain communication kept private, and it can be waived by the client (that is, the client can give up this right), which would allow his or her lawyer to be able to share the information that was discussed between them.

In order for a piece of communication to qualify for solicitor-client privilege, it must have been:

  • communicated between a client and his or her lawyer,
  • communicated for the purpose of seeking or giving legal advice, and
  • intended to be kept confidential by the parties.

What is not included in solicitor-client privilege?

Solicitor-client privilege almost always applies in Canada; however, there are a few instances where it does not apply:

  • When the lawyer believes there is a serious threat to public safety, he or she is allowed to disclose privileged information (for example: if a client tells her lawyer that she is so angry that she will blow up the Legislature tomorrow).
  • When the communication is for the purpose of committing a crime or fraud, it is excluded from solicitor-client privilege altogether (for example: if a client asks her lawyer for advice when she is intending to use the advice she receives to launder the money from a robbery).
  • When the lawyer believes the innocence of the accused is at stake. This means that the information or communication held under privilege could prove that an accused person is innocent, and if the information is not revealed, there is a risk that the accused person could be wrongfully convicted.
  • When the lawyer is trying to collect his or her fees or defend himself or herself against complaints and charges (for example: if a client sues her lawyer for professional negligence, and the lawyer is forced to release what would have been privileged communication in order to defend himself).

More information

For more information about solicitor-client privilege, see the following resources.

Web Solicitor-Client Privilege – a Principle of Fundamental Justice
Patriot Law Group
English
This resource is a private source. Learn more here.

Web For the record: Solicitor-client privilege benefits all of us
Law Society of Upper Canada
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Video What Is The Attorney Client Privilege
LawInfo
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Video Confidentiality – video
Russell Alexander, Collaborative Family Lawyers
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF The Basics of Solicitor-client Privilege
Government of Alberta
English
This resource can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

Web The Supreme Court of Canada on solicitor-client privilege: what every practitioner needs to know
Legaltree Project Inc.
English
This is a private source and can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

PDF Overview of Privilege and Confidentiality
Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia
English
This resource is from outside Alberta and can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

PDF Solicitor-Client Privilege in Canada: Challenges for the 21st Century
Canadian Bar Association
English
This resource can be a challenge to read. Learn more here.

Webinar Webinaire le secret professionnel
Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes
French
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.
How much do lawyers cost and how do they get paid?

One of the first things most people want to know when they hire a lawyer is how much will it cost. It is a common question and lawyers get asked this question a lot. It is understandable that people want to budget for their legal issue.

However, most lawyers will not be able to give you an exact amount of how much your case will cost you. This is because the amount of work a lawyer has to do for any case depends on many things, such as:

  • how complex your case is,
  • the lawyer’s experience dealing with similar issues,
  • whether the other party has a lawyer, and
  • whether you and the other party are willing to be reasonable and make compromises.

All these things are nearly impossible for the lawyer to determine at your initial meeting. For more information about what factors will affect the amount of legal fees a client has to pay, see the following resources.

Web Divorce Attorneys: How to Lower Your Divorce Legal Fees
Kahane Law Office
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web Can an Early Case Assessment Save Me Legal Fees?
Moe Hannah LLP
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web How Much Does a Family Lawyer Cost?
Fine & Associates Professional Corporation
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Video How Long and How Much
Feldstein Family Law Group
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Video Cost Saving Measures in Your Family Law Case
Feldstein Family Law Group
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more hereThese suggestions might not apply in all cases—check with your lawyer.

Web Lawyer Retainer Agreement Myths
Self-Rep Navigators
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

PDF Tips for Keeping Your Family Lawyer's Legal Fees Down
Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Audio New podcast: Working with your estate lawyer - fees & billing arrangements
Estate Law Canada
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Typically, you start your lawyer-client relationship by paying a retainer. This fee can vary depending on the lawyer you hire. Talk to your lawyer before your first meeting so that you know how much money you will have to bring with you if you decide to hire the lawyer. Some common payment methods include: cash, credit cards, bank drafts, and personal cheques. However, not all lawyers will accept every payment method, so check with your lawyer beforehand.

What is a “retainer”?

A retainer is a fee you pay a lawyer to secure his or her legal services and to cover future legal fees and expenses. Typically, a lawyer only becomes your lawyer once you pay this fee and sign a retainer agreement (although this is not always the case).

The reason for this upfront payment is so that the lawyer can start working on your case, knowing that his or her work will be paid for.

The amount of money each lawyer requires for a retainer can vary significantly. Even for the same lawyer, the amount of a retainer can vary depending on the nature and complexity of your legal issue. Some lawyers are also willing to adjust the amount of their retainer to accommodate their clients.

Tip

If it is hard for you to pay a big sum of money at once, talk to your lawyer about a reduced retainer or some type of payment plan.

The retainer will go toward covering your future legal fees. It is an initial payment, and often it will not cover the full cost of your legal issue. Typically, a lawyer estimates how many hours he or she will spend on your case and uses this estimate to determine how much money you will have to put down as a retainer.

If your case ends up taking longer than expected or if it turns out that there are additional issues that need to be addressed, you will have to “top up” your retainer. For example, if you have started a divorce action and your spouse is refusing to cooperate, your lawyer may have to spend more time communicating with your spouse’s lawyer, which would increase the cost for you.

On the other hand, your file may be simpler and less time-consuming than expected. If your lawyer has not worked the number of hours covered by your retainer, he or she will return the extra money to you once your case is finished.

In either case, your retainer is rarely the final cost of your legal matter.

Sometimes, a lawyer may charge a “fixed fee” rather than a retrainer. This may happen when a lawyer has extensive experience doing certain legal tasks, and so he or she can accurately estimate how much time will be needed to complete these tasks. This is quite common in transactional work, such as residential real estate transactions. For more information about fixed fees and other payment structures, see the “What kind of payment structures are available for legal fees?” heading below.

What is a “retainer agreement”?

A retainer agreement (also called an “engagement letter”) is a contract you sign with a lawyer to “officially” hire him or her as your lawyer. Most times, when you hire a lawyer, you will pay the retainer and sign the retainer agreement at the same time.

Most lawyers generally require their clients to sign a retainer agreement before doing any work on the case. A retainer agreement protects both the lawyer and his or her client, and sets out the details and rules of the lawyer-client relationship. A retainer agreement explains various things, including: a description of the work to be done, a description of how fees and disbursements will be calculated and charged, the roles of the lawyer and the client, how communication will occur, and what happens if fees are not paid.

For more information about retainers and retainer agreements, see the following resources.

Web Retainer FAQs
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Retainer Agreements or Engagement Letters
Law Society of Upper Canada
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Lawyer Retainer Agreement Myths
Self-Rep Navigators
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

The following resource is not available online. The link below will give you an overview of the resource, and you can find the full text at libraries across Alberta. For more information about using these libraries, see the Educating Yourself: Legal Research Information Page.

Book Surviving Your Divorce: A Guide to Canadian Family Law
Michael G. Cochrane
English
Access the full book from a library: Alberta Law Libraries / The Alberta LibrarySee Appendix A.

What are “disbursements” and how are they different from legal fees?

Disbursements are costs that lawyers pay on behalf of their clients while providing legal services to their clients. Disbursements may include things like: the cost of ordering a necessary document for a case, photocopying legal documents, hiring a courier to deliver documents, and hiring an investigator or medical expert. The disbursement a client pays for is directly associated with his or her own case.

Disbursements are not a way for a lawyer or law firm to charge the client more. They are costs directly associated with the client, and depending on the legal task, disbursements can get very expensive.

For an example of what a typical “statement of account” may look like, see the following resource, which is not available online. The link below will give you an overview of the resource, and you can find the full text at libraries across Alberta. For more information about using these libraries, see the Educating Yourself: Legal Research Information Page.

Book For better or for worse: a Canadian guide to marriage contracts and cohabitation agreements
Michael G. Cochrane
English
Access the full book from a library: Alberta Law Libraries / The Alberta Library. See Appendix G.

What kind of payment structures are available for legal fees?

Lawyers use different kinds of “payment structures” for their legal fees. What payment structure is used can depend on the nature of the work, the preference of the lawyer, or a compromise between a lawyer and his or her client.

Some common payment structures are:

  • Hourly rate: This is by far the most common payment structure for lawyers in Canada. The lawyer charges a certain amount of money for every hour of work, and the total cost of the legal services is based on how many hours a lawyer spent working on a client’s case. Generally, lawyers who have more experience will charge a higher hourly rate than lawyers with less experience. When a lawyer charges an hourly rate for his or her legal services, clients usually have to pay for “disbursements” in addition to the legal fees.
  • Fixed fee: Typically, this happens when a lawyer has extensive experience doing certain legal tasks, so he or she can accurately estimate how much time will be needed to complete these tasks. This is quite common in transactional work, such as residential real estate transactions. When a lawyer charges a fixed fee for a legal task, he or she will tell the client beforehand how much the task will cost. Clients may still have to pay for “disbursements” in addition to the fixed legal fee.
  • Contingency fee: This an arrangement where the lawyer gets a percentage of what the client gets from other party at the end of a legal matter. For example, if the client gets $10,000 from the other party and the contingency rate is 20%, then the lawyer would get $2,000 and the client would keep the remaining $8,000. This type of arrangement is more common in personal injury cases where an insurance company might make a “one-time” payout to a client who was injured.

In addition to these payment structures, lawyers and their clients may be able to develop their own payment schedule. For example, if a client has trouble paying for a bill in one lump sum, the lawyer may allow the client to pay in several installments or set up some kind of monthly payment schedule.

For more information about legal fees, disbursements, and payment structures, see the following resources.

Web Understanding Fees
Law Society of Alberta
English

Web Retainer FAQs
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web You and your lawyer
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Vous et votre avocat
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
French
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Parenting After Separation (PAS) Parent's Guide
Government of Alberta
English
Start on p. 109.

Video Episode 203- The Break Up - Family Matters TV
AdviceScene (via YouTube)
English
This is a private source. Learn more hereSee 9:50-14:30.

Webinar Looking for a Family Law Lawyer
Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more hereStart at 41:45.

PDF Great Expectations: A lawyer-client handbook
Canadian Bar Association
English

Web Why Does It Cost So Much?
Patriot Law Group
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web How refusing to bill clients by the hour is working for me
Estate Law Canada
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.
What if I feel like my lawyer is charging me too much?

If you do not agree with the amount your lawyer is charging you, the first thing you should do is talk to your lawyer. Sometimes, the amount of work required to solve a legal issue might be more than you think. Or, there may be some misunderstanding or mistake with the bill. You may also want to look at the retainer agreement you signed, which should include terms about how much money the lawyer charges per hour or for a particular legal task.

If you still feel like your bill is too high, there are other things you can do. You may want to get a second opinion for how much a certain legal task should cost. Keep in mind that a second opinion can only ever be an estimate. It is not possible for another lawyer to know exactly how much work your lawyer did.

You also have the option to have your bill reviewed by a review officer from the Review/Assessment Office of the Court of Queen’s Bench. The review officer will look into your legal fees and work with you and your lawyer to help you come to an agreement about your legal fees. See the “How do I get my legal bill reviewed?” section on the Process tab of this Information Page for information about how to have your legal bill reviewed.

What is a “trust account”?

Any time a client gives a lawyer money for legal services, that money goes into the lawyer’s “trust account” (or the law firm’s “trust account” if your lawyer works for a firm). As the lawyer starts doing the legal work, the lawyer will withdraw the client’s money from the trust account and send the bill to the client. This bill is usually called a “statement of accounts.” Usually, because a client has already paid a retainer, he or she will not have to do anything after receiving a “statement of accounts.”

The term “trust” refers to one person temporarily keeping and protecting something for another person. A lawyer or law firm’s account is called a “trust account” because the lawyer or law firm is holding the a client’s money on the client’s behalf. Remember, payments for legal services are usually made as a retainer before the services are provided. So a lawyer might often be holding money he or she hasn’t “earned” yet.

Because a lawyer’s “trust account” is holding clients’ money, it is heavily regulated by the Law Society of Alberta. Lawyers have strict accounting and compliance requirements and they are strongly enforced. If anything doesn’t add up in a lawyer’s trust account, the Law Society of Alberta will audit the lawyer.

Unless you are going to have a lot of money sitting in a lawyer’s account for a long time, you will not get your own trust account. This is because the amount of interest your money would earn would likely not be enough to cover the cost of creating an entirely new account.

When money sits in a lawyer’s trust account, it generates interest just like any other bank account. However, the interest generated in trust accounts does not go to the clients whose money was used to create the interest, nor does it go to the lawyer. Instead, this money is used to fund public legal programs such as Legal Aid and other community legal centres that serve the public by increasing access to justice and promoting public legal education.

Tax deductions for legal fees

When something qualifies as a tax deduction, it lowers your taxable income. Some legal fees are considered tax deductions. The legal fees you pay for the purpose of making child support payments are tax deductible. However, the legal fees you pay for getting a divorce or to establish custody or access rights are not tax deductible.

For more information about tax deductions for your legal fees, see the following resources.

Web Line 232 - Legal fees
Government of Canada
English

Web Ligne 232 - Frais juridiques
Government of Canada
French

Web Deductibility of legal fees during separation or divorce
Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web Are All Legal Fees Fully Tax Deductible?
Intuit Canada
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web What Legal Fees Can I Deduct On My Tax Return?
Nelligan O'Brien Payne LLP
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.
What are my options if I can’t afford a lawyer?

If you are unable to hire a lawyer to handle all aspects of your case (the “traditional” way or “full service” representation), there are still other ways for you to receive some legal advice at either a lower cost or free of charge.

Unbundled legal services

“Unbundled” legal services (also called “limited scope retainers”) is a new way of delivering legal services that has become popular in recent years.

Traditionally, when you hire a lawyer, the lawyer handles every aspect of your case. This is called “full service representation” and it can be expensive. Some lawyers now offer “unbundled services” or “limited scope retainers.” In this type of arrangement, you and your lawyer will share the work that needs to be done for your case. This type of service is usually more affordable than full service representation and allows you to be more involved in your own case.

With unbundled legal services, your lawyer will generally do the more complicated legal work, leaving you to do the simpler work. For example, your lawyer might draft a document for you, but instead of your lawyer filing that document at the courthouse for you, you will file it yourself. Or your lawyer might prepare legal arguments and do legal research for you, but you will represent yourself in court. In this way, you don’t have to pay the lawyer for his or her time to do something that you are willing to do yourself.

A lawyer offering unbundled legal services is still held to the same standard of ethics and level of competence mentioned in the “What to expect from your lawyer” section above. However, in this type of arrangement, a lawyer might not have enough time and resources to look into all of the issues, as a result, the lawyer’s advice or legal opinion might have to be limited and based on certain assumptions. You lawyer will tell you if this is ever the case when giving you legal advice.

Also, there may be certain types of legal work that a lawyer cannot do using unbundled legal services. This could be because certain tasks are complex and require a minimum number of hours to complete, and any less than the minimum would not allow a lawyer to do a competent job. Or, for certain types of legal work, the tasks involved might not be able to be “unbundled” or divided between the lawyer and his or her client.

A lawyer should tell his or her client all the risks and limitations of a limited-scope retainer before being hired under those conditions. The lawyer must confirm with the client, in writing, what tasks the lawyer is hired to do and to what extent the lawyer will do them. The lawyer will also tell the client what tasks the client will be responsible for.

For more information about unbundled legal services, see the following resources.

Web Limited Legal Services
Limited Legal Services Project
English

​​​​​​​
Web About the Project
Limited Legal Services Project
English

Web Legal services provided on a “limited scope”
Patriot Law Group
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Video The Unbundling of Legal Services
Feldstein Family Law Group
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Community legal resources

If you are unable to hire a lawyer at all, there are still other ways you can get legal advice. There are many community organizations across Alberta that help people with their legal problems. They can provide you with information about the law, or more hands-on help such as seeing a lawyer for legal advice, help with filling out forms, or finding someone to go with you to court or teach you how the court process works. Usually, to access these community resources, your income will have to be below a certain amount.

For more information, see the Community Legal Resources & Legal Aid Information Page and the following resources.

resource id='83796']

Web About CLERC
Children's Legal & Educational Resource Centre
English
What if I am unhappy with my lawyer?

The solicitor-client relationship is a partnership and requires cooperation from both sides. However, there are times when both the lawyer and client are trying their best, but the partnership just won’t work.

If you are unhappy with your lawyer, it is important to figure out what is making you unhappy. It is possible that you are unhappy due to some misunderstanding between you and your lawyer, which may be easily corrected by having an honest conversation. Lawyers are not mind readers, so do not be afraid to speak out about your concerns.

Remember

Communication is a very important part of working with a lawyer. If you feel uncomfortable or unhappy at any time while you are working with your lawyer, talk to him or her about it. Often, issues that turn into big problems later on could have been resolved earlier through honest communication.

Or, you might simply not like your lawyer (as a person), but you are still able to have a good working relationship with him or her. This is okay. Although it may be nice to have a lawyer who you like personally, your lawyer doesn’t have to be your best friend. In some cases, even though you might not enjoy working with this lawyer, you may want to look past this if he or she is “getting the job done” and providing you with quality legal services. This is because changing lawyers may increase the cost of your legal fees and increase the amount of time it takes to resolve your legal issue.

Sometimes, a client’s dissatisfaction will require further action. If you are unhappy with your lawyer because he or she can’t do the legal work that he or she was hired to do, or is not being professional (for example: not returning your phone calls), there are several ways you can deal with it.

For more information, see the following resources.

PDF Great Expectations: A lawyer-client handbook
Canadian Bar Association
English

Web You and your lawyer
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Vous et votre avocat
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
French
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web How to Fire an Attorney
wikiHow
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web You & Your Lawyer
Clicklaw
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here. See “Ending the lawyer-client relationship.”

Webinar Looking for a Family Law Lawyer
Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here. Start at 57:45.

Audio Podcast: How to break up with your lawyer
Estate Law Canada
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Changing lawyers

You always have the option of ending your relationship with your current lawyer and hiring a new one. However, this may not always be the best option.

Typically, changing lawyers midway through a case will mean extra legal fees for you. Your current lawyer may need to keep a copy of your file. In this case, you will have to pay for photocopying your file. Also, your new lawyer will have to take some time to get familiar with your case. In this case, you will have to pay for the “extra” time. Therefore, making the decision to change lawyers will depend on how dissatisfied you are with your current lawyer, what you are dissatisfied with (the lawyer or the quality of service), and how far along you are in the legal process.

For more information about changing lawyers, including warning signs for when you may want to change lawyers, see the following resources.

Web How to know when it's time to change lawyers
Lawyers.com
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Video I'm Frustrated With My Divorce Lawyer. Should I Fire Her?
YourTango
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

The following resource is not available online. The link below will give you an overview of the resource, and you can find the full text at libraries across Alberta. For more information about using these libraries, see the Educating Yourself: Legal Research Information Page.

Book Surviving Your Divorce: A Guide to Canadian Family Law
Michael G. Cochrane
English
Access the full book from a library: Alberta Law Libraries / The Alberta LibrarySee p. 32-37.

For more information about the steps to take when you have decided to change lawyers, see the “Changing lawyers” section of the Process tab of this Information Page.

Filing a complaint with the Law Society of Alberta

Another option that is available to you if you are dissatisfied with your lawyer is to file a complaint with the Law Society of Alberta. The Law Society of Alberta is an organization that has power over all lawyers in Alberta. Its mission is to protect the public by ensuring that lawyers in Alberta provide high-quality legal services and conduct themselves in a professional way. Generally, when a client or a third party files a law society complaint, it is because he or she believes the lawyer has not followed the Law Society of Alberta’s Code of Conduct.

For more information about the Law Society of Alberta or if you want to read the Code of Conduct, visit the Law Society of Alberta’s website.

Web Law Society of Alberta
Law Society of Alberta
English

For information about how to file a complaint with the Law Society of Alberta, see the “How do I file a complaint against my lawyer?” section on the Process tab of this Information Page.

If you think your lawyer has been negligent

“Negligence” refers to when a person has a duty of some sort to another person, and failed to meet some standard when performing this duty.

When a person hires a lawyer, he or she will expect some basic level of skill, expertise, and professionalism from the lawyer. For example, when you hire a lawyer to deal with your divorce, you will expect the lawyer to know how to start a divorce, what documents to prepare and file, and how to respond when the other party makes certain claims. You will probably expect the lawyer to return your phone calls and not miss critical deadlines.

“Professional negligence” in law is where a lawyer fails to meet these basic expectations of being a legal professional, and as a result, the client suffers financially. This is usually seen when a lawyer makes some error or omission that leads to a financial loss for his or her client.

Keep in mind, negligence is very different from an honest mistake. Even the best lawyers will make mistakes. “Professional negligence” requires a lawyer to lack the skills and professionalism of a reasonable lawyer.

Be Aware

The professional expectation is that of a reasonable lawyer (not the best lawyer). For example, a lawyer is not negligent simply because you did not “win” your case.

If you think your lawyer may have been negligent, you have to option to either file a claim with the Alberta Lawyers Insurance Association or start a lawsuit against the lawyer. You may consider hiring another lawyer if you want to proceed with either one of these options.

For more information about professional negligence and what you can do about it, see the following resources.

Web Providing Information Concerning a Lawyer
Law Society of Alberta
English

Web Making a Financial Claim
Law Society of Alberta
English
What if your lawyer is unhappy with you?

A lawyer can fire his or her client, but the lawyer must have a good reason to do so and he or she must give a reasonable amount of notice to the client so the client can find a new lawyer.

When a lawyer quits, it is called “withdrawing.” If a lawyer is withdrawing from a case, he or she should also notify the other party and the court (if the courts are involved) in addition to his or her own client. The lawyer should also not withdraw at a critical time in the case or in a way that harms his or her client. If a lawyer withdraws, he or she should try to keep the extra costs for the client low and do everything he or she reasonably can to help transfer over the file to a new lawyer. Keep in mind, it is fair for a lawyer to withdraw if there is good reason, but he or she cannot do it in a way that is damaging to the client. Also, a lawyer must tell the client in writing if he or she is withdrawing from your case.

Generally, good cause for withdrawal can include:

  • a conflict of interest;
  • a serious loss of confidence between the lawyer and client;
  • a client fails to pay legal fees after reasonable notice; or
  • the lawyer no longer has the skills and expertise to handle a legal matter.
Remember

You can file a complaint against a lawyer with the Law Society of Alberta if your lawyer withdraws from your file improperly. See the “What if I am unhappy with my lawyer?” section above for more information.

For more information about why a lawyer might withdraw from a client’s case, see the following resources.

Web Top 10 Ways To Get Fired By Your Lawyer
BlawgIT
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web A Contrarian View: When to Fire Your Client
Canadian Bar Association
English

Process

Learn more about working with a lawyer for family law matters, including:

  • Finding a lawyer (including lawyers who speak languages other than English)
  • Preparing for your first meeting with your lawyer
  • Working well with your lawyer
  • Reviewing your legal bill
  • What to do if you are unhappy with your lawyer

Please read “Who is this Information Page for?” just below to make sure you are on the right page.

LegalAve provides general legal information, not legal advice. Learn more here.

Last Reviewed: August 2017
Who is this Information Page for?

This Information Page is about working with a lawyer to help you solve family law issues. There are many ways for you to solve your family law issues; working with a lawyer is just one way to do it. This Information Page will tell you the basics about what lawyers do, how to find and hire a lawyer, and how to work effectively with a lawyer.

Tip

If you are just starting out with this topic, it’s a good idea to begin on the Law tab of this Information Page. There you will find basic information about what the law says, what the words mean, and other issues that will help you understand what it’s like to work with a lawyer. Once you have the basics down, you will be in a better position to learn about the process of finding and working with lawyer.

A solicitor-client relationship is a partnership and requires cooperation from both sides. What this entails may be different depending on the lawyer and the client. The information below provides some strategies of finding a lawyer and working with a lawyer that have been successful for most people. However, this does not mean you have to follow these suggestions.

You are currently on the Process tab of this Information Page, which has information about the process of finding and working with a lawyer. For general information about what is involved in hiring a lawyer, click on the Law tab above. There is also important information in the Common Questions and Myths tabs above.

How do I find a lawyer?

There are many ways to find a lawyer in Alberta. Keep in mind that you want to find a lawyer who has experience dealing with legal issues like the issue you are facing.

Below are some ways you can find a lawyer.

  • Use the Yellow Pages. Look for “lawyers” (or “family lawyers”). You can also access the Yellow Pages electronically at www.canada411.ca.
  • Ask a friend or someone who has faced the legal issues you are facing now. They may be able to refer you to the lawyer they used.
  • Call the Lawyer Referral Service at the Law Society of Alberta and tell them you have a family law issue. This service matches lawyers who practices in a certain area of law with clients who are looking for lawyers in that area of law. You will be given the names of 3 lawyers who will each give you a free 30-minute consultation. You can contact all 3 lawyers (but do not have to). For more information about the Lawyer Referral Service, see the following resource.
Web Find a Lawyer
Law Society of Alberta
English

 
  • You can use the Law Society of Alberta’s Lawyer Directory to find a specific lawyer or search the lawyers in your city/town:
Interactive Law Society of Alberta: Find a Lawyer
Law Society of Alberta
English

 

For more ways to find a lawyer and some things to consider in the process of finding one, see the following resources.

Web Finding a Lawyer
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Find a Lawyer
Law Society of Alberta
English

Interactive Find a Canadian Lawyer
Lawyerlocate.ca Inc.
English

Web Find a Lawyer
LexisNexis Canada
English

Web Services
Centre albertain d’information juridique
French
How do I find a lawyer who speaks my first language?

The Law Society of Alberta’s Lawyer Referral service can connect you with a lawyer who speaks your first language if there are any available in your area. See the following resource for more information.

Web Find a Lawyer
Law Society of Alberta
English

You may also look for lawyer’s advertisements in cultural publications, or contact cultural organizations in your area. For more information about community legal resources for specific cultural groups, see the Community Legal Resources & Legal Aid Information Page.

If you cannot find a lawyer who speaks your first language in your area, then you may want bring an interpreter to your meetings with a lawyer. It is important to hire an interpreter who is trained for legal work because not every interpreter will be familiar with legal terms.

Sometimes, friends or community members may offer to translate for you. However, when friends or community members are used as interpreters, cultural issues may affect your interpreter. Therefore, it is best to use someone you can trust and/or who is supporting you with the legal issues you are facing. The law is complex, so it is helpful to use a professional and neutral interpreter who is trained for legal work, if possible (and if you trust them).

For more information about interpreters who are trained for legal work, see the following resources.

Web Free Interpreting Service
Community Initiatives Against Family Violence
English

Web Free Multicultural Family Law Facilitation (Interpreting) Service
United Cultures of Canada Association
English

Web Multicultural Family Law Facilitators Project
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Interactive Member Directory
Association of Translators and Interpreters of Alberta
English
How do I prepare for my first meeting with a lawyer?

Regardless whether or not an initial meeting is free, it is good to get into the habit of using your time with your lawyer efficiently. In order to use the lawyer’s time efficiently, you need to go to your first meeting prepared. Below is a list of common ways to prepare for your first meeting with a lawyer.

Documents

One way to use your lawyer’s time more efficiently is to prepare any documents you may need for your meeting ahead of time. You may be able to call ahead to figure out exactly what documents are necessary.

Here are some common documents that you may need to show your lawyer in any family law matter:

  • Basic information (for example: full names and birthdates) about all the parties involved in your legal matter, such as you, your partner or spouse, any children you or your partner may have, and other relevant parties.
  • Birth certificates, marriage certificate, other important documentation.
  • A list of important dates and events.
  • Any court documents you have filed or received regarding your family law matter.
  • Financial statements and income tax information.
  • Monthly budgets and expenses.
  • A list of assets and debts.

For more information, see the following resources.

Web How Do I Prepare for My First Meeting with a Lawyer?
Clicklaw
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Preparing to Meet Your Family Lawyer for the First Time
Dunphy Best Blocksom LLP
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Video First Meeting With a Lawyer
Feldstein Family Law Group
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Before You See Your Family Law Practitioner: Checklist
Community Advocacy & Legal Centre
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Checklist: Documents to Show Your Family Law Attorney
FindLaw
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Questions for your lawyer

You may also want to prepare a list of questions for your first meeting with your lawyer. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Good communication between you and your lawyer is very important in reaching your goals and preventing disagreements later on.

You may want to ask about how much your case might cost and how that cost will be paid. Keep in mind that a lawyer is rarely able to give you an exact amount of how much your case will cost. This is because it is hard to know how much work is required for a case until the lawyer has had the opportunity to look at the issues in detail and communicate with the other party.

You may also want to ask the lawyer what he or she thinks the outcome will be. Although a lawyer can’t guarantee a certain outcome, he or she may be able to give you an idea of some possible outcomes.

To help you come up with more questions, see the “How do you know if a lawyer is right for you?” and “How much do lawyers cost and how do they get paid?” sections on the Law tab of this Information Page.

Since each family issue is unique, the information required will vary from case to case. For more information about how to prepare for and what to bring to your first meeting with a lawyer, see the following resources.

PDF Parenting After Separation (PAS) Parent's Guide
Government of Alberta
English
Start on p. 109.

PDF A Guide to a Successful Interview with a Lawyer
Justice Education Society
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web How Do I Prepare for My First Meeting with a Lawyer?
Clicklaw
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Webinar Looking for a Family Law Lawyer
Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here. Start at 53:00.

Web You and your lawyer
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Vous et votre avocat
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
French
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Video Access Pro Bono - Preparing to Meet with a Lawyer
Justice Education Society (via YouTube)
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.


Video Episode 203- The Break Up - Family Matters TV
AdviceScene (via YouTube)
English
This is a private source. Learn more hereSee 9:50-14:30.

Web Preparing to Meet a Lawyer
Justice Education Society
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Video First Meeting With a Lawyer
Feldstein Family Law Group
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

The following resource is not available online. The link below will give you an overview of the resource, and you can find the full text at libraries across Alberta. For more information about using these libraries, see the Educating Yourself: Legal Research Information Page.

Book Surviving Your Divorce: A Guide to Canadian Family Law
Michael G. Cochrane
English
Access the full book from a library: Alberta Law Libraries / The Alberta Library. See Appendix A.
How can I work well with my lawyer?

Trust, honesty, and communication

A lawyer’s advice is only as good as the information that is given to him or her. In order for your lawyer to give you the best legal advice possible, you must give your lawyer as much information as you can. Some things might not seem relevant to you, but it could make a difference from a legal standpoint.

Therefore, it is crucial that you feel comfortable talking to your lawyer about your circumstances. You must be able to communicate honestly with him or her, and this communication has to continue for the whole time you work together.

By communicating honestly and openly, you could avoid potential misunderstandings and mistakes. This can help you keep your legal fees lower.

Your friends and family might be a great support system, but they are likely not familiar with the law (unless they are family lawyers). When you have family law issues, your friends and family might be eager to help you and advise you on your situation. However, legal advice from friends and family will often be based on what they have seen on TV or what have they have seen in other relationships, which may not be correct or applicable to your circumstances. Often, the advice you receive from your friends and family will be different than the advice you receive from your lawyer. So if you decide to work with a lawyer, you need to trust his or her legal knowledge and expertise.

Making sure you understand your lawyer and your lawyer understands you

In order to reach the best possible outcome, it is important that you and your lawyer understand each other about your legal issues and options.

Make sure you listen carefully when your lawyer is giving you legal advice. It may be a good idea to take notes so that you can review it after you leave the lawyer’s office. Don’t hesitate to ask questions during your meeting. If you don’t understand certain legal terms, be sure to ask your lawyer to explain them. Some lawyers may prefer to answer questions at the end of the meeting, while other lawyers might be okay with questions during the conversation.

Not only do you have to understand your lawyer, but your lawyer must understand you as well. Typically, after your lawyer has discussed a possible course of action with you, he or she will take instruction from you. Don’t forget, this is your legal issue and your lawyer is there to help and guide you. But you are the one who has to make certain decisions, and these decisions may be difficult to make.

Be sure to give clear instructions to your lawyer in order to avoid any misunderstanding. Some lawyers may ask you to put your instruction in writing. Sometimes, you may want some time to think about how you would like to proceed. As long as it is not an emergency situation, don’t be afraid take some time to think about your options. It may be better to take some time to think before instructing your lawyer to do something you may later regret. Giving clear instructions requires you to have a good understanding of the legal advice that’s been given to you. So, when in doubt, ask questions.

If English is not your first language

If English is not your first language and you think you might have trouble understanding your lawyer or giving instructions to your lawyer in English, then you may want to find a lawyer who can speak your first language. For more information on finding a lawyer who speaks your first language, see the following resource.

Web Find a Lawyer
Law Society of Alberta
English

If you cannot find a lawyer who speaks your first language in your area, then you may want bring an interpreter to your meetings with a lawyer. If you are planning to bring an interpreter, let your lawyer know ahead of time so that he or she can prepare for it. It is important to hire an interpreter who is trained for legal work because not every interpreter will be familiar with legal terms.

Sometimes, friends or community members may offer to translate for you. However, when friends or community members are used as interpreters, cultural issues may affect your interpreter. Therefore, it is best to use someone you can trust and/or who is supporting you with the legal issues you are facing. The law is complex, so it is helpful to use a professional and neutral interpreter who is trained for legal work, if possible (and if you trust them).

For more information about how to find interpreters who are trained for legal work, see the following resources.

Web Free Multicultural Family Law Facilitation (Interpreting) Service
United Cultures of Canada Association
English

Web Multicultural Family Law Facilitators Project
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Interactive Member Directory
Association of Translators and Interpreters of Alberta
English

You can have a little extra support (just check with your lawyer first)

Family law issues can be tough to deal with on your own. Even if you find a great lawyer who puts you at ease, you may still need a little extra support. If you feel like having someone with you when meeting with your lawyer will make you feel more comfortable, check with your lawyer to see if you can bring a support person to your meetings.

Be Aware

By bringing a third party into your meeting, your conversation with your lawyer may no longer be protected by “solicitor-client privilege”—see Law tab of this Information Page for more information about that. This may be okay sometimes, but other times your lawyer may want to meet with you alone or ask your support person to leave the room when he or she is about to give you legal advice.

Figuring out what you can do without a lawyer

Even if you hire a lawyer to fully represent you (rather than choosing to use “unbundled services”), there are still things you can do without your lawyer that could speed up the process. For example, if your lawyer asked you to prepare certain documents, make sure you gather them as soon as you can. Sometimes, your case may not be able to move forward without certain documents.

Another example is the Parenting After Separation (PAS) course. This is a mandatory course if you have minor children and are taking your family law issue to the Court of Queen's Bench. If you know you will have to take this course and your lawyer asks you to take it soon, make sure you complete it promptly so it does not delay your court action.

These are only a couple of examples of the things you can do without your lawyer to speed up (or not delay) the process. Since everyone’s situation is unique, ask your lawyer what you can do in your particular situation to help move things forward.

Using time wisely

If you are going to your first meeting with a lawyer, see the “Preparing for your first meeting with a lawyer” section above for more details.

Even after your first meeting, you should always be prepared and organized when you meet with your lawyer. Remember, the time your lawyer spends with you will cost you money, so being well-prepared and organized will save you time, which can help keep your legal fees lower.

This can be anything from organizing the documents you need to creating a list of questions to ask your lawyer ahead of time. It also includes focusing on your legal issues during your meetings. It’s easy to start talking about personal issues during a meeting with your lawyer. However, staying on track and focusing on the legal aspects of your issue will ensure the time with your lawyer is used in the most efficient way.

More information

For more information about what you can do to ensure you and your lawyer work well together and you get the most out of the legal services you are paying for, see the following resources.

PDF Parenting After Separation (PAS) Parent's Guide
Government of Alberta
English
Start on p. 112.

Web Working with your lawyer
Legal Aid Alberta
English

Web Working with a Lawyer
Law Society of Alberta
English

Web How to work well with a lawyer
Legal Services Society
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Webinar Looking for a Family Law Lawyer
Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more hereStart at 56:30.

Video Access Pro Bono - Preparing to Meet with a Lawyer
Justice Education Society (via YouTube)
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF A Guide to a Successful Interview with a Lawyer
Justice Education Society
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web You and your lawyer
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Vous et votre avocat
Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick
French
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Travailler efficacement avec votre avocate ou avocat
Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children
French
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.
Family Violence

 

PDF Working with a Family Law Lawyer
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web How can I help my clients have a good working relationship with their lawyer?
Luke's Place
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.
How do I get my legal bill reviewed?

You have the option to have your bill reviewed by a review officer from the Review/Assessment Office of the Court of Queen’s Bench. The review officer will look into your legal fees and work with you and your lawyer to help you come to an agreement about your legal fees.The review officer has the authority to decide whether the bill should be reduced. However, you only have 6 months after the date on a bill to request a review for that bill.

The following resource is a manual created by the Alberta Courts, and it has detailed instructions about:

  • how to begin a review process;
  • how to prepare for a review hearing;
  • how the review hearing works;
  • what happens if one party can’t make it to the review hearing;
  • how the review officer comes to a decision; and
  • what happens after a review hearing.

This manual also has sample forms you can use if you want to request a review.

There will be a filing fee. You will have to provide your legal bill and retainer agreement to the Court. If you have lost them or never received them, your lawyer will have to provide them to the Court. Once you file the “Notice of Appointment,” you will be given a hearing date for your review hearing. You must serve the “Notice of Appointment” at least 10 days before the hearing date.

For more information and help with this process, contact your local Review/Assessment Office.

Web Lawyers' fees review and assessment
Government of Alberta
English
How do I fire my lawyer?

If you have decided to change lawyers or to not work with a lawyer anymore, there are a few things you may have to do before you can “move on.” The first thing you may want to do is read your retainer agreement and check whether there are any terms that may make it harder for you to change lawyers. For example: How much notice does your lawyer require before the solicitor-client relationship terminates? Do you have to end the relationship in writing? Depending on what you agreed to in your retainer agreement, the steps you have to take can vary.

Also, you may want to hire a new lawyer before you fire your current lawyer. This will minimize the delay on your case from changing lawyers. When you fire your lawyer, he or she is required to give your file to your new lawyer, since you have already paid for (or will pay for) the research and work that’s been done on your file. If you have not found a new lawyer by the time you fire your current lawyer, your file will be given to you.

If you have any unpaid bills with your current lawyer, you will have to pay them before your current lawyer will pass on your file to you or your new lawyer. If you paid a retainer that is not used up, the lawyer will have to return what is left of your retainer.

For more information about firing your lawyer, see the following resources.

Web How to Fire an Attorney
wikiHow
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web How to Fire Your Attorney
Lawyers.com
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.
How do I file a complaint against my lawyer?

If you believe your lawyer has done something unethical or unprofessional, you can file a complaint with the Law Society of Alberta. You can make a complaint by phone or email—see the resource below for more information.

Web Providing Information Concerning a Lawyer
Law Society of Alberta
English

When you make a complaint, depending on the type of complaint and the severity of the complaint, it may or may not become a “formal complaint” right away. If it is not immediately a formal complaint, an officer at the Law Society will assess the complaint and try to resolve it through mediation. If the officer believes the lawyer should be subject to a formal complaint, then the complaint will be sent to the Law Society’s Complaints Manager. If not, the person who made the complaint still has the opportunity to appeal to the Complaints Manager that his or her complaint should become a formal complaint. This appeal will have to be in writing.

Once a formal complaint is filed, the Complaints Manager will review the situation and information surrounding the complaint. Both the lawyer and the person who made the complaint may be asked to answer questions and provide documents. At the end of the review, the Complaints Manager will either dismiss the complaint or the forward the complaint to the Conduct Committee.

If the complaint is dismissed by the Complaints Manager, the person who made the complaint will be given the reasons in writing, but he or she will still have a right to appeal.

If the complaint is reviewed by the Conduct Committee, a similar review process would take place as the review conducted by the Complaints Manager. The Conduct Committee can either dismiss the complaint after the review, or forward the complaint to a Hearing Committee and issue a citation. A citation is a public document posted by a Law Society, and it lists the claims that have been made against the lawyer.

For more information about how to file a complaint against a lawyer with the Law Society of Alberta, see the following resource.

Web Providing Information Concerning a Lawyer
Law Society of Alberta
English

Provincial Court

Queen's Bench

Back to Top