Family Law: Preparing to Meet with a Canadian Family Lawyer

It can be a big waste of time for both you and family lawyer if you are not prepared for your first meeting. Being unprepared may also end up costing you money because it will take longer for the family lawyer you hire to get up to speed on your legal matter.

First of all, the Canadian family lawyer will want to know who you are and how you can be contacted. The family lawyer may also ask for a personal and business background. He or she will clearly want to understand your situation. Thus, you need to write down anything that you consider be relevant background information and have it available for the family lawyer. Also bring along any documents that you have.

Sometimes, a Canadian family lawyer may also try to facilitate the information gathering process by sending you a questionnaire to fill out in advance. If this happens, be sure to fill out the questionnaire and send it in to the family lawyer's office before the meeting. Also send along copies of any available documents that may be requested in the questionnaire.

Before you get too far into a meeting or conversation, the lawyer is going to want to know about possible conflicts of interest. If the family lawyer or his firm represents anyone on the other side of the matter, he or she will have a conflict and will usually not be able to represent you.

Prepare a list of questions to take with you to your first meeting. You have to feel comfortable with your family lawyer. Remember that your lawyer is working for you. You want someone who is skilled, but you also have to get along with your lawyer. In theory, no question is too silly to ask. Keep in mind, though, that you do not want to scare him out of representing you. Questions you might ask a family lawyer would include:

A great way to start your search for a local Canadian family lawyer is at Canadian-Lawyers.ca. Go to the 'Find a Lawyer' search box that appears on the right hand side of this screen to start your lawyer search. Type in Family Law or the name of the law firm, the city and the province that you are looking to hire a lawyer from, and click on the 'Search Now' button. This will generate a list of local Canadian family lawyers.

  • What sort of experience do you have with family law? How have you handled family law matters like mine before? Without breaching client confidence, please tell me about them. How many family law matters like mine did you handle in the past year?
  • Do you specialize in family law matters, or is family law just a part of your practice?
  • What can you do to help me understand the tax effect of the decisions I will have to make?
  • What kind of resources can you make available to me to help me get through my family law matter with as little pain as possible?
  • Will anyone else in your office be working on my family law case? Can I meet them?
  • How long have you been doing Canadian family law? How have you seen family law and your practice change during this time? (More and more separating couples are taking control of their situation, reducing the frequency of adversarial separation and increasing their use of mediation. Some Canadian family lawyers embrace and encourage these changes, and some don't.)
  • How will you charge me? What is your hourly rate? Do you charge for the time I spend with other family lawyers, with paralegals, and/or with secretaries? If so, at what rate?
  • Do you insist that I pay you a retainer up front, or will you allow me to pay you as you render services? In addition to the fees for your services, what expenses do you expect will be involved (for example, for private investigators, forensic accountants, physicians, and/or psychologists), and how will you charge me for them?
  • Do you charge for faxes, copies, and long-distance telephone calls? How much? (Some lawyers consider these services an additional profit opportunity.)
  • What's your estimate of the total cost to me of this family law matter? (Don't be concerned if the Canadian family lawyer resists answering this question. So much of the cost of a family law matter depends on the degree of conflict between you and your spouse, and you know that better than the family lawyer. You may learn a lot from the lawyer's answer, however, so it's helpful to ask.)
  • Do you advocate mediation? What style of mediation do you prefer? In how many cases have you represented a client who was mediating his or her divorce? What mediators would you recommend? If my spouse and I mediate, will I have to pay you to be there the whole time, or can I use you simply as a coach on an as-needed basis?
  • If I decide at any point I'd like to take control and negotiate directly with my spouse or with my spouse's family lawyer to save money, will you let me do that, using you as a coach? Or will you insist that all communications flow through you?
  • How can I keep the cost of my family law matter down? Are there tasks that I can do myself to cut down on the amount you will charge me?
  • What other services do you think I will need from you in connection with my family law matter, such as bills of sale, deeds, trusts, and an updated will, and how much will you charge me to do them?
  • Based on what you know about my case, how would you predict a judge would rule on it? What facts would make the ruling more in my favor? If my spouse were sitting here with you asking the same questions, how would you answer my spouse?
  • Do you carry malpractice insurance? How much? Have you ever had to make a claim on your malpractice insurance?
  • Have you had any clients or former clients file grievances against you with their provincial law society? If so, please tell me about them.

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