When You Are Unhappy With Your Lawyer FAQ



Natalie Fraser for The Lawyers Weekly

Q: Can clients fire their Canadian lawyer?

A:

Yes. But first, dissatisfied Canadian clients should try discussing their concerns with their lawyers, since problems often arise through a lack of communication. Clients who continue to find their lawyer's performance unsatisfactory can legally retain a new lawyer. However, they will remain legally responsible for the full amount of their lawyer's bill up to the time of dismissal.

If clients wish to retain a new lawyer because of problems after their court action has commenced, they may have to convince the judge that a good legal reason exists to do so, since dismissing the lawyer and hiring a new one will substantially delay the legal action.

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Q: What if a Canadian lawyer doesn't return phone calls?

A:

Lawyers should return phone calls promptly. Not returning calls shows an unprofessional attitude. Part of a lawyer's job involves keeping clients aware of the progress of their legal file, and clients should not have to wait to find out what is happening.

However, Canadian legal clients must consider the reasonableness of their expectations. If a lawyer advises a client that he or she will contact the client when there is new information, and follows through, then clients shouldn't phone frequently asking for updates. This will only increase their legal bill and get them labeled as a problem client by staff.

If reasonable calls are not returned, and clients have made every attempt to clear up the problem without success, they should consider retaining another lawyer to handle their file.

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Q: What if Canadian clients feel their lawyer has overcharged them?

A:

Canadian clients may find their legal bills confusing, and higher than expected. Often communication difficulties have created a problem, so clients should start by discussing their concerns with their lawyer. Asking for a full explanation of the bill and requesting the lawyer to provide a more detailed legal bill may resolve the problem.

Clients in Canada are able to discuss a payment plan with their lawyers if they find themselves unable to pay the legal bill within the required time. Most lawyers have provisions for such arrangements.

If legal clients remain dissatisfied with the amount of a bill after discussing it with their lawyer, they may contact the law society in their province for assistance with the problem. Law societies generally offer various options for clients to formally review their lawyer's bills.

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Q: What if clients believe their Canadian lawyer has acted unethically?

A:

Clients in Canada who believe their lawyer has acted unethically should report the problem to the law society in their province. This generally involves filing a complaint with the law society providing details of the client's concerns.

Most problems involve the service a lawyer has provided to his or her client. The law society will follow up on this type of problem by working with the lawyer and client to find a resolution. More serious cases require an investigation. If the results of the investigation suggest the lawyer has acted unethically, the problem will proceed to a hearing by a discipline committee.

At legal discipline hearings, usually both the law society and the lawyer can present evidence and call witnesses. If the committee finds the lawyer has violated the rules of professional conduct, possible penalties include fines, reprimands, suspensions or disbarment.

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Q: What if clients believe their Canadian lawyer has acted incompetently?

A:

Clients in Canada who believe their lawyer has acted incompetently can consider commencing an action for legal malpractice.

Successful malpractice claims usually prove that a lawyer acted negligently. This requires evidence that the lawyer's work didn't reflect the standard of care expected of a competent lawyer for the type of matter involved. Examples include missing a limitation period or attending at court unprepared.

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Q: What must be proven to win a Canadian malpractice action?

A:

The court must find that the lawyer had a duty to act properly on the client's behalf, the lawyer failed in that duty by acting negligently, and the client suffered as a result. The amount of the financial loss suffered by the client due to the lawyer's legal negligence will determine the amount of compensation awarded by the court.

Lawyers in Canada must carry insurance to cover any legal errors or omissions they make while practising law. Before bringing an action, legal malpractice lawyers will want to ensure the lawyer being sued held this insurance with sufficiently high coverage at the time the malpractice occurred. Legal clients can then collect any compensation awarded by the court through the lawyer's insurance company.

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Natalie Fraser practised law in Whitby, Ontario for seventeen years and is now a freelance legal writer. She often writes for The Lawyers Weekly.


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