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Meeting with a Lawyer: Preparation for and Next Steps

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Meeting a Lawyer - Field notes

You have now taken the first step and reached out to a lawyer to help you with your issue. Kudos! You don’t know what you don’t know and scrimping now could lead to bigger legal bills down the road if things go wrong. So, seeking legal advice is a good idea when you’re faced with life’s major challenges, milestones, and changes, including living together, separation/divorce, estate planning, employment, or business concerns. But now what?

First, there are some housekeeping matters to take care of.

  1. I.D. verification is required by the Law Society of Ontario. Lawyers must confirm the identities of their potential clients, including additional verification requirements when the client is an organization. Individuals will be asked to provide basic personal details (e.g., name, address, telephone number, email, occupation, etc.) and to present a government-issued ID (generally, driver’s license or passport, not health card), a copy of which the lawyer will keep on file.

  2. A conflict-of-interest check will be performed before your first consultation and before you can “retain” the lawyer. A conflict of interest exists where the lawyer owes a duty to a current or former client or third party that would be in conflict with your own interests. For example, if you are coming to the lawyer for a divorce, but the lawyer has previously represented your spouse, even if it was an unrelated matter, there is likely a conflict of interest. The lawyer may also have personal interests that could affect the duties owed to the client, such as an ownership interest in a business that competes with the prospective client’s business. The lawyer must determine if there is a substantial risk that their duty of loyalty to the prospective client would be materially or adversely affected by their personal interest or their duties to another client (current, former, or joint) or a third person.

  3. Intake. If there is no conflict, you will need to provide some background (“intake”) information so the lawyer has the information needed to open your file and so that, when you meet, the time can be used more productively than if you needed to provide basic details. It will also enable the lawyer to start formulating an initial plan. In addition, you will be asked to provide any relevant documents: for a family law matter, this could include your marriage contract, your tax returns and notices of assessment for the last 3 years, your 3 most recent pay stubs; a list of your assets and liabilities, as well as any property owned by you (and your spouse, either together or separately). If you have any pre-existing agreements (e.g., cohabitation / pre- or post-nup) or court documents, the lawyer will also want to see these. For an estate planning matter, any prior wills and codicils, shareholder agreements, and domestic agreements should be provided in advance, as well as information on your assets. You will also want to give some forethought to what you want to accomplish; for example, if you’re doing a will, you should think about how you want your final wishes carried out and by whom; for a family law matter, you might be most concerned about what the parenting plan will look like.

  4. Consultation with Lawyer. Although you may be offered a short initial no-obligation consultation by some lawyers in order to determine fit, and to provide you some initial legal information, legal advice will not be provided until a more detailed discussion can be had. The first substantive consultation will typically last about an hour, during which time you will delve more deeply into the details of your situation and wherein the lawyer will provide you initial advice, including a proposed plan or strategy for next steps. The lawyer will also provide you with an explanation of the fees that may be anticipated, though with the exception of certain straightforward matters (e.g., uncontested divorce, document review, simple will), this will not be something that can be predicted with any certainty, as your results are highly contingent upon the actions of each side.

  5. Retainer Agreement. After the initial consultation with the lawyer, you will determine whether you would like to retain them for your matter. The lawyer will provide you with a “Retainer Agreement” or a “Retainer Letter” to set out the scope of the lawyer-client relationship, as well as rates and other important information for you to understand (e.g., confidentiality of communications). This is a document that you will have to sign and return to the lawyer. Now that the lawyer has more information about your case, you may be asked to provide additional documents or further information, depending on the circumstances. For example, the lawyer in a family law matter will want you to collect and provide the information that will comprise your Financial Disclosure for the purpose of negotiating the terms of a Separation Agreement.

  6. Subsequent Communications. Your lawyer will regularly keep you up-to-date on the status of your case or, in the case of document preparation and review, can give you an estimated time for completion. With respect to inquiries you may have, most lawyers’ offices will attempt to respond within a reasonable time, often 24-48 hrs (though usually not including weekends or holidays!). However, depending on your lawyer’s schedule (whether or not, for example, they are in court), you might not get to see them right away. Your lawyer has to prioritize their clients’ matters based on things like court-imposed deadlines. Where possible, electronic communications facilitate a more timely response to your questions, as they can often be addressed in breaks throughout the day, even where the lawyer is not in the office. And, in order to manage each other’s time and your expense, try to consolidate your inquiries. Keep in mind that each email reviewed and responded to will be billable time, and we want to manage the budget as much as you do!

    If you have any questions about the process or would like to initiate a consultation, Lamers Law will be pleased to assist you. And if you’re not ready to consult a lawyer yet, but could use a friendly reminder from time to time, consider following Lamers Law on Facebook or Instagram.