Do I Need a Lawyer and What is it Going to Cost?
Kenneth W. Golish, Criminal Defence

Do I Need a Lawyer and What is it Going to Cost?

Please note the disclaimer that nothing in this site constitutes legal advice.  If you would like to have a consultation, please contact me.

In the famous United States decision of Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963) Justice Black comments about the necessity of lawyers in criminal cases:

That government hires lawyers to prosecute and defendants who have the money hire lawyers to defend are the strongest indications of the widespread belief that lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries. The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours.

Justice Black, Supreme Court of the United States, 1963        

Do I Need a Lawyer?:   In any criminal matter, or for that matter anything like a criminal matter, for instance a highway traffic case, it is always a good idea to consult counsel. You may think you are guilty and that seeing a lawyer cannot help your case, but that is not usually true. A criminal conviction could effect your current or future employment and limit your freedom to travel. Ignoring a traffic ticket or pleading guilty to a provincial offence, could result in a conviction that will cost you more than a fine when your insurance premiums go up.  Of course, seeing a lawyer cannot guarantee a best result, but it is better to take the time to see a lawyer, and at least know where you stand, than not to see one and not know at all.  Here is an honest illustration: Let us say we have two neighbours.  Each is charged with impaired driving and it looks like the charges are based on similar facts.  Each neighbour goes to court, pleads guilty and gets the exact same penalty.  The first neighbour hires a lawyer and pays him or her a few hundred dollars, but the second just goes to court without a lawyer.  Not surprisingly both end up with the same result--they each pay a fine and both lose their licenses for a year--so it looks like the person who didn't hire the lawyer did much better.  One person however had the benefit of legal advice, a lawyer who reviewed the police record and determined the case against the client was strong.  The other person could have hired a lawyer. Perhaps the lawyer might have found a way to beat the charge.  We just don't know. 

What is a Lawyer Going to Do?:   If you hire a lawyer to represent you in a case, here is what you should typically expect that lawyer to do:

  Generally advise you about the potential penalties of being found guilty on the charges;

  Review the prosecution case and recommend any additional investigation and direct that investigation;

  Advise you on the merits of your case and recommend a course of action, for instance to plead guilty or go to trial;

  If possible, negotiate a resolution of the case with the prosecutor;

  Explain what is involved in your case and the possible ramifications of your pleading guilty;

  Represent you at your trial or sentencing hearing or both.

Of course, your lawyer may not need to do all these things.  Then again, he or she may have to do more. 

How Much is a Lawyer Going to Cost?   Can I get legal aid?:   You probably can get an initial consultation for free from a private lawyer or speak with duty counsel at no charge.  You can expect that any discussions you have with such a lawyer about your case will be kept confidential. Although you will only be getting some basic information, you should at the very least consult with a lawyer this way. Remember though, if you limit yourself to a free consultation or duty counsel services, you probably are not getting the kind of legal representation you need.  Hiring a lawyer may cost you nothing in any event because you may qualify for legal aid. If you hire a lawyer privately, you are entitled to know how the lawyer is going to charge you. With some cases and most criminal lawyers you will be charged a lump sum. Fees in criminal matters cannot be settled on a pre-determined contingency basis. The fee in all cases must be reasonable.  That will depend on a number of factors. You will find a discussion of this in the topic All about legal fees.. You may be asked to sign a written retainer agreement.  Such an agreement or acknowledgment benefits both the client and the lawyer.  If you do not like a term in the proposed agreement, take it up with your lawyer and perhaps he or she and you can agree to something else. An agreement that provides fees are earned when paid and before the work is done is probably not valid.  However, the amount of the fee and when you have to pay it are two different things. In criminal matters, you may be requested to pay the full amount of the retainer at once or on a schedule.  Fees paid in advance are not yet earned by lawyer. In Ontario, a fee paid, but not earned, must be held in trust. 

What About Using a Paralegal:   Paralegals are now regulated and are subject to professional rules.  While they may end up having experience in the area, they do not have the proper legal training to be well-rounded advocates.  Finally, although paralegals promote themselves by claiming their fees are less than those of lawyers, frequently that is not the case at all.  Generally paralegals are best suited to defending provincial offences, such as highway traffic matters, but do not normally defend Criminal Code matters.

How Do I Find a Lawyer:   Perhaps the best time to hire a lawyer is when you don't need one.  When you have to hire someone, however, check with friends and family.  You may consult internet or telephone directories or find out from the local legal aid office who the lawyers are on their list.  To some extent you may rely on the content of lawyer advertisements--ethical rules prohibit misleading advertising.  You should not rely solely on advertising in making your decision.  Not every lawyer is for every client, so you should try to find one you feel comfortable with.  Nothing prevents you from talking to more than one lawyer before you hire someone, but in fairness, you should tell each lawyer that you have been or may be speaking with other counsel.  Should things not work out with the lawyer you hire, you are always free to retain someone else, but you do not want to make the mistake of firing a lawyer only over a difference concerning your expectations.  You may be looking for a very favourable outcome and your lawyer is telling you that expectation isn't reasonable.  Or the reverse is possible: You think the good outcome your lawyer anticipates will not happen.  One of you will probably be wrong. More than likely, it will be you, the client, not the lawyer.  Realize that a lawyer with experience will be better at predicting a particular outcome than you are. As well, firing a lawyer during the course of case will more often than not give the impression that the client, not the lawyer, is being unreasonable.  That is not going to help your case with the judge or the prosecutor.  Remember, your lawyer is there to work for you and with you.

Please note the disclaimer that nothing in this site constitutes legal advice.  If you would like to have a consultation, please contact me.