Choosing among Vancouver lawyers can be a difficult and frustrating experience for a number of reasons, among which is the difficulty in distinguishing among them without actually meeting (or at least speaking to) them. As well, the fact that there are thousands of lawyers and law firms in the Greater Vancouver area alone makes it impossible to talk with even a small proportion of them.
Therefore many Vancouver lawyers find that their lawyer-client relationships start as the result of word-of-mouth referrals. Ask your friends and business contacts whether they have a Vancouver lawyer whom they trust with their work, and would be willing to recommend for the kind of legal concerns you have.
This accomplishes two things. First, it results in you having some confidence in the lawyer. The reality is that for many people, including seasoned businesspeople, sending work to a new lawyer is an intimidating process, because of the costs involved, the importance of the matter in question, and lack of detailed knowledge of what it is the lawyer really does and how he or she does it. If you have someone you know and trust who is prepared to tell you that a particular lawyer will take good care of your needs, on a timely basis, without charging more than the matter is worth, you will be far more likely to feel confidence in the lawyer.
If you feel confidence in the lawyer (rather than displaying doubt or hostility), the lawyer in turn will feel more comfortable with you, will treat you better, and make you feel more comfortable.
The result is that you are likely to be better served on numerous fronts.
Of course, in many circumstances, you may not have anyone who is prepared or able to refer you to a lawyer appropriate for your issues, in which case you must rely on other sources of information, such as advertisements, the internet, B.C.'s Lawyer Referral Service (with which many Vancouver lawyers have signed up for a program where they will meet with a potential client, and discuss their legal issues, for 30 minutes for only $10 plus taxes; their numbers are 604.687.3221 in the Lower Mainland, otherwise 1.800.663.1919), or other sources of information.
In any case, the main questions to which you will need answers are, in what is probably descending order of importance for most clients:
- Does the lawyer deal with the kind of legal issues you have (or are likely to have) questions about?
This will obviously require that you have some idea of what issues are at hand. This is fairly simple when a problem has already arisen and you need it dealt with, but can be less obvious in other circumstances (such as when you are starting a new business and are proactively gearing up for operations).
- What is the lawyer's availability?
Surveys of legal clients routinely indicate that the kinds of things that upset clients about their lawyers are difficulty in getting through to the lawyer, delay in getting responses from the lawyer, and failure of the lawyer to keep the client informed about progress of and activity on the client's file. All of these can be grouped roughly under the heading of "availability."
Obviously, to get an unbiased opinion on a particular Vancouver lawyer's tendencies in these respects, your best source of information would be the lawyer's existing (or past) clients. But if you do not know of anyone to ask, feel free to ask your potential lawyer himself or herself. Does he or she tend to pick up the phone in person, or get information from clients by way of messages left with his or her assistant, or on voice mail? Is he or she commonly out of the office, meaning that communication by way of messages back and forth is necessary? (This is often true of busy litigators, through no fault of their own, because of busy court schedules. See our "B.C. Lawyers" page for a definition of "litigator.")
In particular, ask the lawyer whether he or she typically responds to messages on the same day as they are left, or within 24 hours. If the lawyer cannot answer that they routinely respond on the same business day that the message is left (or perhaps by the end of the following business day), then you must be prepared for some delays between calling the lawyer and getting a response. Bear in mind, of course, that this does not necessarily mean that the lawyer is avoiding you, or is not working on your file; it may just mean that the lawyer is immersed in your matter and considers it a more valuable use of time to work on the job at hand than to call you and tell you that he or she is doing so. Alternatively, it may be that the lawyer has considered your issue and determined that it is less urgent than some other matter that he or she is working on, for you or another client, and has prioritized it accordingly.
All clients like to think, and should be entitled to think, that if they have a truly urgent matter, their lawyer would devote himself or herself to it in order to clear it up as soon as reasonably possible. All clients should therefore recognize that if they have an issue that is not so urgent, there may be another client who has an urgent issue, which requires the lawyer's full time and attention.
- How are fees calculated? I.e., what are the lawyer's rates, what "extras" can the client expect to be charged for, and when are bills rendered and due?
Vancouver lawyers still bill mainly on the basis of an hourly rate multiplied by number of hours spent. However, certain services such as incorporation of a new company, or defense of a "driving under the influence" criminal charge, are commonly available on a "fixed fee" basis. Personal injury cases are commonly taken on a "contingency" basis, meaning that the lawyer is entitled to a percentage of whatever the plaintiff receives as a result of a settlement or trial. Variations of each of the above exist, and you will need to determine which is most appropriate for you and your issue(s).
Billing cycles also vary among Vancouver lawyers and law firms, though many now bill their clients for ongoing work on a monthly basis, rather than in the more traditional "deal done" basis where the client saw no bills and had little idea of their total fees, until the transaction in question was complete and they received a single large (and possibly surprising) invoice.
Please see our BC Lawyers and Vancouver Law Firms pages for further information on the legal environment in British Columbia.