In general, finding a lawyer is no easy task and finding one in Montreal is no exception. The abundance of offers and the legal costs are, among other things, factors that can complicate your search. Being in a situation that requires a lawyer is difficult in itself and choosing the right lawyer to support you throughout your process is important. Under what circumstances are the services of a lawyer required? What criteria can be used to make the right choice? How do you evaluate the services rendered? The answers to these questions will serve as a guide to finding the right law firm for you.
Situations requiring a lawyer’s services
There are many situations in which the services of a lawyer may be required. However, these services can be divided into two categories, namely litigation and counsel.
Lawyers and litigious situations
Lawyers are often asked to intervene in litigious situations such as the recovery of an unpaid claim, the exercise of a mortgage right or a lawsuit for damages. You will likewise need a lawyer in the case of legal action against you. Being the defendant in a case is an uncomfortable position to be in. Although a natural person can represent themselves (representation by lawyer is mandatory for legal persons, Art 87.3 Code of Civil Procedure of Quebec), it is highly recommended to enlist the help of a lawyer with experience in litigation.
Lawyers and legal counsel
In many situations, litigation can be avoided, or its chances of success increased, if a lawyer is consulted in advance as counsel. The old adage of prevention being better than a cure applies here. Indeed, counsel is often overlooked despite being essential and its neglect is the source of many disputes. Would you not have liked to know that you could obtain, under certain conditions, the extrajudicial termination of your commercial lease by drafting a resolutory condition in case of a payment default? Would it not have been better to receive advice on the importance of a shareholder agreement when facing a major disagreement with your business partner and company shareholders? Finally, how much would you have paid to find out which steps need to be taken to avoid a disputed succession?
A lawyer’s services therefore come into play at different levels, both as counsel for future planning and preventing litigation and as a litigator and legal strategist for obtaining a favourable ruling or avoiding a conviction.
Criteria for choosing your lawyer in Montreal
Montreal is home to 55% of Quebec’s lawyers, while the island of Montreal accounts for 23% of Quebec’s total population. In addition, the number of lawyers entering the market each year is growing. In fact, Quebec has 326 lawyers per 100,000 inhabitants, the average in Canada being 252. Faced with this over-supply, it is recommended to carefully choose the lawyer you need. To this end, four criteria should be considered.
The lawyer’s field of practice and specialization
Does the lawyer practice litigation? If so, is their practice concentrated in civil law or in criminal law? This question is important since the rules, the field of law and the practices before the courts differ significantly. Is the lawyer more versed in corporate law and their practice focused in contract drafting and company formation? Does the lawyer specialize in public law, municipal law, co-ownership law or are they an expert in class action? These services will not be suitable if you are struggling with an estate dispute.
The lawyer’s competence
To paraphrase Rodrigue in Corneille’s Le Cid: “I am young, it is true; but to well-born souls, value does not await the passing of years.” Although experience is a criterion, it also has a cost. Experienced lawyers are more expensive than young lawyers. However, young lawyers often have better legal knowledge once they pass the bar, since the knowledge acquired is fresh and up-to-date. Competence is an element to consider but should not be viewed solely through the lens of experience. Let us not forget that Rodrigue emerged victorious from his duel with the count Don Gomes, a much more experienced fighter who was undefeated, but not invincible.
The size of the law firm
Law firm structures range from lawyers who work alone to small firms, medium-sized firms and large corporations like Heenan Blaikie. The business model of these structures is not the same, nor is the chain of command and execution. In large and medium-sized firms, your file is rarely dealt with by the lawyer in charge of it, but rather by a junior staff member or trainee, whose work is not supervised or is at best mentored. This often results in increased costs and a delay in processing the file. Small firms offer direct contact with the attending lawyer, efficient communication and improved access to justice. These elements help strengthen the bond of trust between you and your lawyer.
The lawyer’s cost
The costs associated with a lawyer’s services give rise to many concerns. A survey conducted on the subject found that 69% of respondents believe they would not have the financial means to defend themselves in court. Furthermore, 50,8% of wealthy households (with incomes higher than $100,000.00 a year) have the same opinion. Lawyer fees would appear to be prohibitive, yet the need for legal services is clear and present. Given this observation, what is a lawyer’s fee structure? How does it work? Are there alternative pricing structures?
The standard lawyer fee structure is an hourly rate. This rate depends on the lawyers, but the average is between $201 and $250. This is only the average rate and if it seems expensive, lower rates of $100 to $150 per hour can be found. Hourly rate pricing varies according to the lawyer, their expertise, area of specialization, the structure in which they practice and their experience. However, although the hourly rate structure remains the norm in Canada, this trend is changing noticeably due to the emergence over the last few years of alternative pricing structures that allow greater transparency into the costs entailed by a lawyer’s services. Indeed, there are many people that want to know how much the services of the retained lawyer will cost in advance, and rightly so.
To this end, here is a non-exhaustive list of existing alternative fee structures:
- Pro Bono: Services are provided free of charge as part of a desire to help the community and provide better access to justice by processing certain files without charging fees.
- Package: The price of the file is fixed and known in advance, regardless of the duration and the number of interventions.
- Percentage: Otherwise called a contingency plan, the lawyer is paid a percentage if the file is settled or a favourable judgment is rendered. In this method of pricing, the lawyer bears the financial risk of the file.
- Provisions: The lawyer receives a monthly remuneration up to the fixed price for his fees.
- Price ceiling: The lawyer bills at the hourly rate up to the ceiling agreed-upon with the client.
- Hybrid: A mix of the different structures mentioned above.
Evaluation of the lawyer’s services
Once all these steps have been successfully completed and the right lawyer has been chosen, you will be able to receive the services needed to settle your file. How can you make sure that these correspond to your needs? Here are three criteria that will help you evaluate your lawyer’s work.
The processing of your file and its progress
Apart from the delays inherent in any proceeding, has your lawyer acted diligently? Have they exceeded the agreed-upon deadlines? Did they introduce the procedure quickly as requested? Did they respond to the notice that you received? Has your file been dragging on for months without any results? The lawyer must act in your best interests and an active and personalized handling of the file makes a big difference in settling the file, as well as in the cost of services rendered.
Communication between the lawyer and the client is essential. For services rendered to be satisfactory, regular communication by phone or email is recommended. The majority of clients criticize their counsel for not answering their call and not keeping them informed of the file status or the remaining steps to be taken. Many litigations before the Bar Council would be avoided simply through better communication. Ask yourself if your lawyer keeps you informed and responds to your requests.
Everyone thinks they have a good cause, but not everyone wins. The chances of success for a given file are often low, or even zero. The lawyer has the expertise necessary to inform you of your chances of success or failure.
The lawyer must also submit you any settlement offers that come up within your file and evaluate them with you in light of other criteria such as the length of the proceedings, the invoices paid and the trial costs. Nevertheless, your lawyer’s opinion can sometimes be unfavourable to you or fail to meet your expectations, but it must never go against your interests.
Your law firm in Montreal
In short, properly choosing your lawyer is crucial. This choice depends on a number of criteria presented to you in a concise and unambiguous manner to help you make an informed decision. Bérard Avocat is a law firm that meets all these criteria and we will be happy to meet your needs by providing our expertise, our transparent and affordable rates, our availability and our efficiency and diligence in meeting your expectations. If you are looking for a legal professional who is competent and at your disposal, do not hesitate to contact Bérard Avocat.
 La presse, Combien coûte un avocat, dossier de Marc Tison,