When should I contact a lawyer?
We recommend that you contact a lawyer in the following circumstances:
- You have been sued.
- Your rights have been breached and you require legal recourse.
- Your are involved in a dispute that needs resolution by mediation, arbitration or court proceedings.
- You have been charged with an offence.
- You have assets, children, a spouse, but no will, or you have a will, but your circumstances have changed.
- You are about to embark upon a new business either by start-up or purchase.
- You are interested in selling a business or major asset.
- You are about to acquire a substantial asset or assets by way of purchase or lease.
- You are owed money and are having trouble collecting it.
- You are asked to personally guarantee another's debt.
- You are having difficulties with your spouse, marital or common law, and a separation is being contemplated.
- You wish to purchase, sell, subdivide or develop real estate.
- Generally you are concerned about what legal rights you have in a certain area or you want to enforce your legal rights.
What should I look for in a lawyer?
You should retain a lawyer or law firm that can provide the services you require at a cost that you can afford. The lawyer and client relationship is one of trust. You should retain a lawyer that you can trust with matters of importance to you.
How do lawyers determine how much to charge for their services?
Billing methods vary depending on the nature of service provided. Some services are provided on a fixed fee basis. Common examples include the incorporation of a company or the sale of a house. Other services, due to their variable nature, are not amenable to a fixed fee. Examples include litigation and commercial transactions. In these cases, fees will vary depending on how complicated and lengthy the matter becomes. In these cases often fees are calculated primarily based on the time spent in respect of the services. Lawyers have hourly rates which are applied to the time spent to arrive at a fee. Although time is an important consideration, it is not exclusive. Other considerations applicable to determining an appropriate fee include: the results achieved; the complexity of the matter; the urgency of the matter; and the demands of the client. The object is to arrive at a reasonable fee that both the lawyer and the client accept as fair.
What can I do if I need a lawyer but cannot afford one?
There area number of agencies in Calgary, Alberta, that may provide legal advice or representation to those who need but cannot afford a lawyer including: Calgary Legal Guidance; Legal Aid Society of Alberta; and Student Legal Assistance.
Do I need a lawyer to represent me in Court?
There are a number of different levels of court in Alberta. The superior courts include the Court of Queen's Bench and the Court of Appeal. The lower court is the Provincial Court including Criminal, Family and Civil Divisions. Legal representation is required in the superior courts if the party is a corporation. Corporations cannot self-represent. Individuals can self-represent in the superior courts, but we do not recommend it. The procedure is complex and mistakes could severely compromise your claim, defence or appeal.
The Provincial Court, Civil Division (sometimes referred to as Small Claims) was initially intended as a "peoples' court". The procedure was simple and the law of evidence somewhat relaxed. Over the years the Court has changed. It has a higher monetary jurisdiction ($50,000.00) and a more elaborate procedure. Lawyers are more common. If you represent yourself and the other party has a lawyer, you could be at a distinct disadvantage. Further, though you may succeed in getting judgment at this level of court, collection of the judgment could become a problem. Collection requires that the judgment be filed at the Court of Queen's Bench. Thereafter, collection proceedings are governed by the Court of Queen's Bench procedure. This can be difficult to navigate without the help of a lawyer.
If you are facing criminal charges, proceeding invariably start at the Provincial Court, Criminal Division. Self-representation in these proceedings is not recommended.
Family law matters at the Provincial Court level are dealt with in the Family Division. Again, we recommend that you be represented by a lawyer, whenever possible, before the Court on these matters. Generally, if you cannot afford a lawyer, there are organizations that will provide you with legal assistance or legal representation.
Why should I hire a lawyer and not use a "paralegal" organization?
Lawyers are trained professionals. Typically they have attended university for a minimum of 7 years; obtained at least a law degree in addition to any other degree they have obtained; had at least one year of training called "articles"; and have passed rigorous examinations to be licensed as lawyers - "called to the bar". Members of paralegal organizations ("consultants") on the other hand may have no education; are not generally licensed; and generally need not submit to training or examinations.
Lawyers are licensed and regulated. To maintain their license they must abide by the law and by professional standards of ethics and ability. Consultants generally are neither licensed nor regulated.
Lawyers are insured for negligence and fraud. If a lawyer causes you damages by negligent conduct or fails to account to you for funds placed in his or her trust, insurance is available to compensate you for your loss. Insurance is mandatory for all practicing lawyers in most if not all Canadian jurisdictions. Consultants generally do not have insurance either for negligence or fraud. Consequently, if a consultant causes you damages, or fails to account to you for funds that you placed in his or her possession, you may never be able to obtain compensation or recover your funds.
Consultants cannot represent you in the Court of Queen's Bench (although they may appear as your agent at lower court levels).