I have been practicing law for over 25 years now, and I have seen an increase in the number of people who choose not to hire a lawyer in family court. When I was called to the Ontario Bar in 1994, about 20% of family law clients did not have a lawyer. Depending upon who you ask, in some courthouse in Ontario, that number is now as high as 75%. There are many reasons that people give as to why they cannot, or will not, hire a family law lawyer, but there are 2 main reasons I hear most: cost and value.
With regards to costs, family lawyers’ fees can range from about $110.00 per hour (the basic legal aid rate) to as high as $1,000.00 (depending upon the city and what the local legal market will bear). Most lawyers charge somewhere in between these two amounts. I won’t lie to you. This is not cheap. But unlike other services that you purchase in your life, hopefully you will not have to use a lawyer more than a few times in your life (buying or selling a house, doing your will and powers of attorney, negotiating an agreement, etc.). Lawyers don’t make widgets – we sell our time, our experience and our advice to the public. How much this will cost a client depends upon many things, including the complexity of the case and the reasonableness (or lack thereof) of both the client and the opposing party. A lawyer will do what is needed to get the best result for the client in a timely manner. This can be in as little as a few weeks or a few months. In some cases, if it needs to go to trial, it may take a year or more, but these are the exceptions, not the norms. Less than 5% of cases go to trial. A family law lawyer can help you settle your case out of court, but only if it’s in your best interests to do so. Without a family law lawyer, you are gambling on whether you will successfully resolve one of the most critical matters in your life. It is not the time to cheap-out.
I understand that what we do seems easy, especially if you watch TV or movies. Others in your life may recommend that you not bother with a family law lawyer because you can use free, or almost-free legal services, or there are on-line tools or printed brochures to help you navigate the legal system. If you chose this route, please understand this – it is at your own peril. Most family law lawyers welcome and encourage a prospective client to use the internet to be an informed client; but relying on these resources to effectively be “your own family law lawyer” is simply too risky. You may not know until it is too late that you have made a crucial mistake, by saying something you should not have, not saying something you needed to say, by not dotting the right “i’s” or by not crossing the right “t’s.” There is tremendous value in what family law lawyers offer the public, and we must earn your trust, each and every time, to have you choose to purchase our services.
I am thankful that we do not view many other professional services in this way – last I checked, there is no “duty electrician” to sit down with you and take you step-by-step through your own house re-wiring, or a “do-it-yourself” root canal video. Rather, we hire the right professional to do the right job, at the right time, and for the right price. Family law lawyers are no different – if you need one, you just need to find the right one for you.