Lawyer fees are normally charged by the hour but many offer flat rate billing per task or other alternative fee arrangements. Personal injury lawyers often charge a contingency fee that 33% of your settlement amount, but you can negotiate that rate based on the value of your case.
People are often surprised that they might have to pay some or all of the other side’s legal fees if they lose a case. But most cases settle with each side just paying their own lawyer’s fees.
How much do lawyers charge in Ontario?
The Law Society of Ontario (LSO) publishes a fee schedule that ranges from $165 per hour to $350 per hour, that depends on the lawyer’s years of experience since they were “since called to the bar.” A lawyer is called to the bar after they finished law school, passed the bar exams, finished “articling” for other lawyers, and then paid LSO’s fees to get licensed and insured.
In reality, some lawyers charge $90 per hour to as high as $2000 per hour. Paying by the hour is fine when you need detailed legal advice that is tailored to help you in your situation, but I usually prefer a flat rate arrangement for most things.
If your lawyer needs to research an issue, it often means that they don’t specialize in that issue and you are paying them to learn. That’s a dangerous proposition. I recommend always hiring specialist because they know the in-and-outs in their specialty so that you don’t get caught in a gotcha moment and lose your case. This often means that you will have to pay multiple lawyers, but that’s better than paying one lawyer who loses your case.
Can you negotiate lawyer fees?
Yes, you can and should negotiate with a lawyer before signing their retainer agreement. If the agreement is extremely vague, it’s a sign of trouble to come.
You can also negotiate how much of a retainer you will pay up front and how that retainer fee will be used. Many lawyers want to keep a retainer fee as a buffer in a trust account that they can apply to future bills if you fail to pay their actual invoices. This practice is too rich for the average person but fine if you have a long and complicated matter that’s going to take months of work.
Fair and Reasonable Fees and Disbursements
Lawyers and paralegals are permitted to charge clients for legal fees and disbursements provided the amount charged is fair, reasonable, and has been disclosed to the client in a timely manner. What is fair and reasonable will depend on factors such as
- the time and effort required and spent on the matter
- the difficulty of the matter
- the importance of the matter to the client
- whether special skill or service has been required and provided
- the amount involved or the value of the subject matter
- the results obtained for the client
- fees authorized by statute or regulation
- special circumstances, such as the loss of other retainers, postponement of payment, uncertainty of reward, or urgency of the matter
- the likelihood, if made known to the client, that acceptance of the retainer will result in the lawyer’s or paralegal’s inability to accept other retainers
- any relevant agreement between the lawyer or paralegal and the client
- the experience and ability of the lawyer or paralegal
- any estimate or range of fees given by the lawyer or paralegal to the client, and
- the client’s prior consent to the fee.
[Commentary  to r. 3.6-1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct (“Rules”); r. 5.01(2) of theParalegal Rules of Conduct(“Paralegal Rules”)]
Lawyers and paralegals are not permitted to profit from disbursements. Clients must only be charged the actual cost of the disbursement the lawyer or paralegal paid on the client’s behalf.
Some lawyers try to “negotiate” an increased fee in the middle of an engagement. Courts and bar associations will review such “negotiations” as evidence that the attorney asserted improper leverage. You should not feel compelled to pay your lawyer more than what you agreed to pay him.
Appealing Your Lawyer’s Bill
Some lawyers will send out bills that are far more than what you expected. This practice has given lawyers a bad reputation and causes many people to avoid hiring lawyers at all.
If you receive a bill or bills that are excessive, you should call or write to them and say that their bill is excessive. They are not allowed to charge for this time spent with you.
If the lawyer works in a law firm with other lawyers, talk to a more senior person at the firm. For example, you could talk to a partner at the firm about your bill.
If you can’t agree, you can have your lawyer’s bill “assessed” (reviewed by an assessment officer) at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice by filling out 3 forms.
Resources on Dealing with Lawyer’s Fees
ONTARIO: THE LIMITATION OF ASSESSING SOLICITOR BILLS