You’re in a dispute: when do you call a lawyer?

Posted on September 1, 2023 in Litigation by Faith Baron

One of the most common questions I receive as a civil litigator is: “Do I need a lawyer?”

Often the main hesitation is the cost of retaining representation. Retaining a lawyer is expensive. Lawyers typically operate by the billable hour which means they charge for their time. Sometimes retainers are required. Depending on the nature of your dispute or the amount at stake, you may question whether you really need a lawyer. The initial sticker shock can make this decision a hard one.

That said, a lawyer is a professional who is trained to assist with both the substantive and procedural matters of your dispute. While many people feel capable of managing certain things on their own, like re-shingling a roof or repairing a home appliance, there often comes a point where the matter becomes too difficult to handle by yourself. Just as performing a root canal requires significant expertise, litigators are educated in the law and experienced in the judicial system, and they specialize in handling disputes.

If you are hesitant to “go all in” with a lawyer, most do not require a full commitment when you first consult. At first, you might contact a lawyer and ask if you can retain them only to assess your situation and offer some advice about the strength of your claim.  You will need to provide the details of the situation and any relevant documents you have.  Some legal research might be necessary to fully analyze your circumstances. Several follow up questions will likely be asked. This initial consultation, which may take some time, will help you understand if you have a claim, how much it is worth, and what the costs and risks of litigation might be.  While we cannot speak for all litigators, our office has done this kind of limited initial consultation quite often.  It does take some time to review the client’s particular situation and consider the claims in order to give meaningful advice (and lawyers do typically charge their billable rate for this work), but it can be very valuable to the client.  For example, your lawyer may be able to identify areas of your situation that you did not consider or damages that you did not realize you could claim.  Conversely, your lawyer might be able to help you better understand the risks and pitfalls of your situation, such as where your evidence is weak or where the law does not favour your position. Your circumstances may be governed by specific legislation and your lawyer will be able to help you understand such implications.  All of this information helps to make an informed decision about the risks and costs of litigation before you jump in with two feet.

Once this initial consultation is complete, you will be better equipped to make a decision as to whether you should retain a lawyer to represent you in negotiations and possibly commence a formal action, or whether it is better to walk away from the situation. Sometimes that old adage of “your first loss is your best loss” really is true and litigation is no exception, but sometimes retaining a lawyer is a good investment that is necessary to get something resolved once and for all.  Engaging with a lawyer early on in your dispute will help you avoid going down the wrong procedural path or starting negotiations with the wrong tone. As well, disputes can be heard in various different forums, and each has its own set of rules and procedures (e.g. the Court of King’s Bench Rules is a 500 page document).  A lawyer can guide you through the steps and procedures to ensure filing requirements and deadlines are met so that your claim is not dismissed on some legal technicality. Developing a litigation plan early on can be crucial to the goal of success.

If you choose a traditional retainer, your lawyer will be your advocate and handle all aspects of your matter. The lawyer will be the main contact for correspondence, draft all documents, appear in court, etc. However, in some cases, the lawyer can take on a more limited advisory role where the client performs certain steps on their own. This hybrid method can help keep costs down even though there may be a point where you need your lawyer to take the wheel.

If you find yourself in a legal dispute, the decision to retain a lawyer or not is often the first major decision you will face.  As above, a lawyer can help you make that decision too.

Faith Baron
500-123 2nd Avenue S, Saskatoon, SK S7K 7E6
Telephone: 306-244-0132

This article is provided for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice.

This article was originally published in The Western Producer on January 12, 2023.