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Resolving a problem with your lawyer or paralegal

Good working relationships are not just preferable in the workplace but also between a lawyer/paralegal and his or her clients.

What happens when a lawyer/paralegal-client relationship hits a snag?

The first step is to try to communicate your issue with the lawyer or paralegal. Depending on the issue you should first try to resolve the issue with them before taking more formal steps to resolve the dispute.

Try to talk to your lawyer/paralegal and see if you can resolve the dispute that way. You may be able to come to a mutually satisfying resolution. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to the lawyer, you can also send a letter or an email outlining the problem.

What causes a breakdown of the lawyer/paralegal relationship?

Many times, disagreements between lawyer/paralegal’s and clients are caused by fee disputes, communication problems, delays and/or problems with the behaviour of the lawyer/paralegal.

Fee disputes

If a client doesn’t understand his or her bill then before taking any formal steps, he or she should try to get an explanation for the bill from the lawyer/paralegal. Often the issue can be resolved or is due to a misunderstanding. For example, a client may not understand what disbursements are and why they are on the bill, and the lawyer could quite easily explain this to the client.

However, if a client cannot come to an agreement with the lawyer/paralegal then he or she can often ask for a reassessment. For example, in British Columbia, if you are in a fee dispute, the law society offers a Fee Mediation Program for disputes from $1,000 to $25,000 which allows lawyers and clients to resolve their fee dispute with the help of a private mediator, who is free of cost.

Problems with communication

Often a lawyer will not communicate with a client for a while, because there is nothing new to be reported about the case. Usually you will be informed in the retainer letter, which you should have received at the beginning of your case, that the lawyer will update you when new developments arise. If you haven’t heard from your lawyer in a while and you are concerned, then you can call or email the lawyer and ask if there has been movement in the case.

However, if the client continuously calls and/or e-mail’s the lawyer and there is no response and you have made efforts to speak to your lawyer then you can contact your provincial/territorial law society and make a complaint in writing. Usually the law society attempts to resolve this type of problem without having to move to a formal hearing.

For paralegals in Ontario, clients can also make a complaint with the Law Society of Ontario, as paralegals in Ontario have to be licensed through it. If it’s another province or territory, then you can make a complaint to the firm or to the lawyer for which the paralegal works.

Problems with the lawyer’s or paralegal’s conduct

There are some cases in which the lawyer or paralegal may not have acted properly and broke his or her fiduciary duty or acted negligibly.

A lawyer has breached their fiduciary duty if they have violated the rules of the law society by which they are governed. If the lawyer has made a mistake on a client’s file then that is considered professional negligence.

For either of those duty breaches a client can file a complaint against the lawyer with their law society.

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If You Have a Problem With Your Lawyer

Resolving a problem with your lawyer or paralegal