Before seeking out legal representation, one of the most pressing questions on a client’s mind is: how much does a family lawyer cost? In the midst of navigating challenging life circumstances that require a lawyer, the added worry of finances and affordability often weighs heavily on those involved.
While this is certainly an important question that should be asked at the start and throughout the legal process, the answer is rarely clear cut. Legal fees depend on many factors, some of which are within the client’s control, and others are not.
In today’s blog post, we’re going to provide an introductory overview of the cost of hiring a family lawyer, and offer general advice on keeping costs lower.
A Breakdown of Family Lawyer Costs
A retainer is a deposit that a lawyer draws from throughout the process as they charge you for their services, typically on an hourly basis. Currently, the initial retainer for a family lawyer in BC ranges anywhere between $3,000 to $30,000. For cases of greater complexity, the initial retainer required can be even higher. Hourly rates for family lawyers in BC usually range from $275 to $500 per hour, and in major cities like Vancouver, it can cost upwards of $700 per hour.
A lawyer’s rate generally corresponds to their years of experience, with most lawyers increasing their rates every one or two years. A lawyer with an hourly rate of $275 may have around one to three years of experience. However, a lawyer with an hourly rate around $500 will likely have over 30 years of experience.
In general, family lawyers charge their hourly rate in 0.1 hour increments for all time and work dedicated to a client’s family law file. This work can include everything from phone calls to emails, and meetings with clients to speaking with witnesses and other relevant parties. They also bill for time spent preparing and drafting court documents and agreements, as well as any research time to help them prepare for court on top of the time actually spent arguing in court.
Based on the findings of the Legal Fees Survey 2021 conducted by Canadian Lawyer Magazine, we see that on average, one day in court costs between $4000 and $7000. A two-day family law trial costs roughly $19,087, and a five-day family law trial is $43,481.
Factors that Determine Legal Fees
It goes without saying that the more issues need to be resolved between parties, the more time will need to be dedicated to addressing them, incurring further hourly charges. In some circumstances, outside experts – such as child psychologists or property appraisers – may need to be hired to lend their expertise and provide reports. More complex issues will incur higher legal fees.
Further, the parties’ willingness to work towards a shared resolution may have a significant effect on the final costs. If the other party is determined to argue every issue, the legal fees could skyrocket. Spending time in court guarantees considerable legal fees, with a two-hour court application costing upwards of $8,000 or more. Pursuing alternatives to going to court, such as mediation or arbitration, can help both parties save significant legal costs, even if they don’t see eye to eye on most issues.
Finally, the client’s level of organization and involvement can play a part in determining legal fees. If the client is disorganized with their documents or haphazard in communication with their lawyer, they will waste valuable time and money during the legal process. Any time a lawyer spends on sorting out and making sense of a client’s files themselves is billable time that will accumulate quickly.
How to Keep Costs Down
Although the cost of a family lawyer is variable and will change depending on many factors, there are some factors within your control that can help you keep costs down.
Staying organized and conducting as much work by yourself as possible will help you reduce your overall expenses. Depending on the individual case, some ways you can assist your lawyer are:
- Preparing a timeline of significant events
- Compiling list of all assets and debt
- Collecting your income-tax and bank documents
- Outlining your goals, issues, and questions
- Filling out any questionnaires as thoroughly as possible
Efficient and clear communication with your lawyer will also help you save on legal fees. Find out precisely how your lawyer bills their time – in most cases they bill their time in six-minute increments – so that you can avoid unnecessary fees through interactions that take less than six minutes. For example, if a lawyer’s hourly rate is $400, they would charge $40 every six minutes or less they spend on a task. The most cost effective way to make use of your lawyer’s time is to plan out your emails, phone calls, and meetings. Many short interactions will cost you much more than a few longer interactions. Writing down key points and questions ahead of meeting with your lawyer will help you avoid spending time on issues that are not as important, or needing to schedule another meeting later if you forgot to ask a pertinent question.
Finally, conducting regular cost-benefit analyses may be invaluable to those looking to keep legal fees low. When emotions run high during legal proceedings, it can be all too easy to spend more time and money than necessary on trying to “win” or get revenge on the opposing party. Find a lawyer who shares cost-effectiveness as a priority and encourages you to make cost-benefit analyses a regular part of the process. Your lawyer can help you decide whether something you want to pursue, especially in court, will be worth it after considering the cost, chance of success, and reasons for pursuing it.
What to Expect at Westside Family Law
At Westside Family Law, we strive to present our clients with a transparent estimate of the expenses of their legal representation, in addition to keeping them fully informed on any upcoming costs during the proceedings. Your well-being during the process is our priority every step of the way, and we understand the stress that finances can cause. We are dedicated to finding a solution that works for you.
To speak with us about your options and learn more about our fees and services, fill out the contact form below, or call us at 604-734-7911 to get started.