In my previous blog on the high cost of lawyers in family matters, I promised to lay out a couple of additional ways in which fees can be reduced.

  1. The work you can do:

A lot of time is taken up in gathering the necessary information for your lawyer so that he or she can give you proper advice. There are always at least two sides to every case and information is needed from both sides before proper advice and recommendations can be secured.

First, the lawyer needs to know all about you. He needs to know the history of your relationship with your partner. If you can prepare a good ‘chronology’ or  time line of your relationship from beginning to end, you will have saved a lot of time for your lawyer. A ‘good chronology’ is not a ‘book’. It’s just a bullet point history of the major events in your relationship: work history (our employment resume is probably enough if up to date); residential history; children (and their development along with who was involved doing what with them during their upbringing); history of major purchases; inheritances or other gifts from third parties (and what happened to this property); details about your career and its milestones; and, finally, a statement of the outcome you would like to have at the end of the process.

There is a lot more information to provide as you might expect. The lawyer also needs to know about the property and debts you both brought into the relationship,  and the property and debts you both have at the end of the relationship. He needs to know details as to your present income, your employment benefits, status of your health, your partner’s health, pension benefits for either of you, life insurance protection, other insurance coverage and just about everything else of any significance in your life.

You will also need and can begin to gather all of the documents related to the above items but in particular which prove the balances in your bank accounts, investments, pension plans, etc. as well as the balances owing on all of your debts. All of this is required for the date of the separation.

If you are good at organization, you can put these documents in separate file folders to assist your legal team in organizing them under the proper categories. If you cannot do this before your first appointment, your lawyer will likely give you a package of instructions and forms for filling out at the time of your first meeting. The point is that the more of this you can do on your own, the less time it will take your legal team and therefore the more money you will save.

Your lawyer also needs information from your partner. Therefore, if you can copy documents similar to your own but related to your partner (partner’s income, property at date of separation, debts at separation date, etc.), before you leave the home, you will have already started the process which your lawyer will have to continue but, once again, when you do the work, your lawyer does not have to and you therefore save money in legal fees.

As your case goes along, there will be other things you can do to save expense, like getting documents copied or delivered to the other side’s lawyer. You can likely become as involved as you would like in marshaling all the evidence your lawyer will need to properly advocate on your behalf. Always ask questions about what you can do to help – it’s a great way to reduce your costs.

  1. The type of retainer you have with the lawyer:

For many years, when you retained a lawyer to ‘handle your separation’, the lawyer was required to ensure that every single potential issue that might arise as a result of your separation was properly attended to. With all of the sophistication and complexity of the modern world and the impact which this is had on the family, these issues can be very numerous and very time-consuming to resolve. This is one of the reasons for the skyrocketing costs of legal services everywhere. This type of “lawyer work” is still required when you have a full services retainer arrangement or engagement with your lawyer.

The Law Society of Upper Canada, which is responsible for governing the conduct of all lawyers in Ontario, has recently passed some amendments to the Rules of Professional Conduct which now, for the first time, permit lawyers to enter into limited retainer or limited fee arrangements with clients. This means that you can now retain a lawyer for very specific roles in relation to your case so long as the lawyer makes sure that you fully understand the limitations of such an arrangement.

For example, you might think that you could engage a lawyer to assist you with preparing your court documents to start a court proceeding against your partner. This can now be done. However, you would need to know that the lawyer would not be going to court for you and would probably not be undertaking the full investigations that are necessary to give you proper advice and recommendations. Whether or not the engagement included this kind of work would all depend upon your instructions to the lawyer and the agreement which you and he signed prior to him doing the work. You would be left to do this on your own. You would therefore not be able to find fault with your lawyer if, at a later date, you discovered that you had overlooked an investigation which should have been undertaken and as a result, seriously compromised your own rights. It is the lawyer’s responsibility to make sure that you understand the limitations which you are imposing upon him by a limited retainer arrangement.

In order to make sure that both the lawyer and you as the client understand this limited type of retainer, the lawyer will require you to sign an engagement or retainer letter which sets out these limitations very carefully for you in an understandable way. The lawyer will not be able to perform this type of work for you without a written engagement letter which you will have to sign.

The services performed under these types of limited retainer or limited engagement agreements are often called “unbundled legal services”.

Sometimes these arrangements are made after the client has already started either negotiating with their partner or are in court. So even at that point, a limited retainer arrangement is possible. The type of arrangement depends upon what you need from the lawyer. The range of services can be anywhere from simply wording a document in proper legal terminology to giving full far ranging advice about a specific issue in your case. In other words, you and the lawyer can now tailor make the type of service you require at any given point in your case.

While there are many risks involved in representing yourself in negotiating your own agreement or proceeding through court on your own, you can lessen these risks with unbundled legal services and save some money on overall legal fees.

If you would like to see the revisions to The Rules of Professional Conduct as it relates to these unbundled legal services, please click on the following link and follow the links to Rule 2 and if you would like to learn more, see the Report to Convocation upon which those amendments were based at