Choosing the Advocate that is Right for You

How Do You Find Information About a Lawyer or Paralegal?

So, you decided to hire a legal professional.  This is a daunting task.

First, check to see that your legal professional is listed in the Law Society of Ontario directory.  If their name is in the directory, they are licensed with the Law Society of Ontario and are able to provide you with legal advice or legal services.  If their name is not listed, they are not licensed and likely not authorized to provide the services you are seeking.

Second, check the website of your prospective choice.  How much information does the website provide?  Is there a contact number?  Are there office hours?  Does there appear to be a physical office?  Does the prospective hire provide legal advice or legal services in the areas of law that you need help with?  Their website should state clearly what types of issues they could help you with.

While it is not necessary to have a physical office, the Law Society of Ontario does have specific requirements for those who choose to work from home or in shared office space.  Short term or hourly rental spaces, such as Regus or Zemler “office in a box” boardrooms, do support occasional meetings for a legal professional meeting with you in your community.  However, such space may not be appropriate for a long-term relationship.  Legal professionals are obligated to maintain strict confidentiality of your records (e.g. a locked filing cabinet, password-protected clouds), as well as to provide a consultation area that is free of distractions.  It should be a space that nobody else regularly enters or has a reason for being in.  Further, not having a physical office limits the way you can interact, drop off documents or meet with your professional in an emergency or urgent situation.

Your prospects website should provide the areas of law that they work in.  If your prospect’s website simply states, “we handle matters in small claims court“, it is not enough.  What kinds of small claims matters can you bring to this person/firm?  Does your prospect offer help with employment situations?  Is the person familiar with construction contracts, such as a ‘renovations gone bad’ type of case?  How about your prospect’s experience in filing claims against an insurance company, such as when your house insurer declines your claim after your roof blew off?

Meeting with Your Legal Professional

Third, how does your prospect present themselves?  Are they boastful of early achievements?  Do they compare themselves with other legal professionals?  Are they dressed so they could hurry off to the nearest night club after meeting with you?  Do they look like they just finished up a paint job at their house and are interrupting that job to meet with you?  Are they playing with their smart phones at any time in your consultation, or do you notice their computer screen opened up to Facebook or Twitter?

Fourth, what is the state of their meeting space?  Many legal professionals meet in private boardrooms or empty offices in their physical location to ensure that your comfort and confidentiality is held in top regard.  Their own offices may be filled with paperwork to the brim, which is not an ideal client meeting space.  Your meeting with your prospective professional should not include the presence of open files, documents, or even closed files piled up on the desk or board table.  If space is an issue, your professional should place these files behind them on the floor or on a shelf outside your view before meeting with you.

Fifth, how does your prospective professional communicate with you?  At the Initial Meeting, they should mostly listen and steer the discussion with questions to help understand the legal issues you are bringing them.  The type of communication style one client prefers may differ from the next.  However, in most cases, your prospective representative should be knowledgeable about your issue, non-judgmental and be willing to explore a number of options that can help you arrive at the right place.

The Importance of Trust, Professionalism and Being Upfront

It is important to identify your goals with your legal representative when you meet with them.  While we are trained for court and often love to litigate, taking everything to court is not always in the client’s best interest.  A good legal professional would ensure that going to court is a last resort, while at the same time securing a strong legal settlement that may not be perfect but would meet your needs.

Your legal professional should be able to discuss fees in a straight forward manner.  There are different ways that fees are charged to clients at Browne & Associates Legal Services Professional Corporation.  There are hourly fees, which are usually limited to research and possibly a limited scope retainer.  A limited scope retainer is when you need help with some of your case, but not all of it, such as drafting a claim.

There are also block fees where each step in a legal proceeding has a flat rate, as well as a monthly retainer fees for ongoing actions that a client may not be able to fund upfront.  Many times, your legal professional will ask for a certain amount of money upfront.  If they do, this money must by law be placed into a trust account and not disbursed to themselves until: (a) work is partially or fully completed; and (b) invoiced.

It is important that you have a trust level with your lawyer or paralegal.  You should be comfortable telling him or her anything that you feel is relevant to the case you are bringing to them.  You should also feel that you are not being judged.  Many people involved in traffic or criminal cases feel badly, but a professional’s job is not to judge you.  Their job is to assist you in resolving the issue.

Most important, once that comfort level is established you should provide all the information they need, or their ability to help you may be limited.  Please see our companion article on your Initial Consultation.


Should I Sue in Small Claims Court?

Something happens.

You are fired from your job, purchase a car from somebody that did not actually own it or loan a friend some money they did not repay.

Your first thought is to file a small claims suit against the person you feel owes you money.

Do I Have A Case (for Small Claims Court)?

As paralegals, we litigate a lot in small claims court.  Small claims court can deal with many, but not all claims, under $25,000.00.  Many times, another body, such as the Landlord and Tenant Board or License Appeals Tribunal have the jurisdiction to deal with your claim.  In many cases, these other forums must be the place you file your claim and not small claims court.  Paralegals can litigate in these other forums and we can tell you if the small claims court does not have the jurisdiction to help you.

Most important, note that many types of actions cannot be decided in small claims court, even those that are not otherwise in the jurisdiction of a tribunal.  Some examples of cases are listed below:

If You Want to Force a Party to Do or NOT to do Something

You cannot take somebody to small claims court to seek what is known as injunctive relief.   If you want to do this, you generally need to file what is known as an APPLICATION to the Superior Court of Justice.  Paralegals do not get involved in these kinds of cases.  For example, if you want somebody to take down a website, sell their condominium or to force a company to re-issue shares to an aggrieved shareholder, these are heard in Superior Court.

Small claims court however can order under limited circumstances something called a Writ of Delivery.  This is usually an order for the return of a specific object, such as a motor vehicle, a musical instrument or even a family pet.

If the Basis of Your Claim is to Order Specific Performance 

This court cannot order specific performance of a third party.  Apart from enforcing a settlement agreement that came out of small claims (or a related forum that is enforceable in small claims court), this is not possible.  However, you can seek damages from breach of contract on a number of grounds (unjust enrichment, breach of contract, interference with contractual relations).  But, a small claims court will not order your employer to give you your job back, nor will they order the company next door to stop polluting your backyard.

Issues That Fall Under Other Statutes with Legislated Jurisdiction 

You might be contesting something under the purview of the Family Law Act or disputing the essence of an estate.  This is also done in the Superior Court or Ontario Court of Justice (Family Division).  The small claims court will not give you your children back.  This court will not resolve issues of equalization between you and a former spouse.  You cannot get appointed to be an administrator of an estate, or set aside a will to dispute its meaning.  However, if a will clearly states that you are entitled to monies under $25,000, you can sue the estate trustee for this money if it is not distributed in accordance to the will.

Construction Liens

Construction liens up until recently were strictly under the jurisdiction of the Superior Court.  However, this is changing by way of the new Construction Act, where small claims court can be the forum to file such liens of value of $25,000 or under in jurisdiction.  This is an evolving process, whereby a dispute resolution process is expected to be fully in place by October 2019.

This list of exceptions is not exclusive.  Contact our office today to see if your case fits the small claims court or another tribunal where we practice.

I Have a Claim Under $25,000.  Should I Sue?

When we determine if we will take on a file, we consider a number of elements in your claim.

First, do you have or can you easily obtain sufficient evidence to bring forward your claim?  Such evidence would include a contract, witnesses, invoices, audio or video recordings, photographs, among other things.  Second, can you directly connect the party you wish to sue as being liable?  Sometimes the answer is easy.  The party is a former tenant, a person to whom you loaned money, a former employer or a municipality.  Other times, it might not be as easily, particularly when a third party caused the party you believe is liable to commit the act.  Third, can you easily find the person you wish to take to court?  This involves knowing the proper name, spelling, last known address, possible occupation, among other things.  Our office can assist you in finding the person to some extent, but there are other factors you need to consider.

Does this person have any assets or a sufficient income to cover the claim?  The person may own their own house, but may have several creditors ahead of you in line if you were to win your case.  They may drive a late model vehicle, but they may be leasing it.  Is your party working?  Do you know if they earn a sufficient income to cover your claim, even if you win?  Is your party possibly bankrupt or involved in a consumer proposal?  This information can be determined through our office to help you determine if it is worth your money and time.

Does My Claim Have Merit?

This is something that needs to be determined.  This depends on the type of case you have, what evidence and if any limitation periods apply.   In general, civil suits have a two year limitation period, but this can differ in some cases.  Often, the answer to whether your case has merit can be determined right away.  As experienced litigation paralegals, we have seen many different types of cases over the years and know how the courts will see them.   When faced with an unusual situation, we conduct case law research to determine if our arguments would be on point.

It is important to go to court with a case that has strong merits.  Some people have come to our office to ask us to sue just to force the other party to back down on something.  Or they want to sue for the principle.  As we have been in court many times, we know that courts penalize parties that bring frivolous, vexatious and meritless claims.  Even a case with good merits can be brought forward and lost, mainly because of the credibility of witnesses, quality of evidence and so forth.  Even if you believe the other party might get intimidated by your lawsuit, many will seek the advice of counsel and call your bluff.

My Case Has Merit and I Want to Proceed.  Now What?

If you wish to proceed with a meritorious claim, Browne & Associates Legal Services Professional Corporation can assist you in many ways.  If money is an issue, we can complete what is known as a limited scope retainer.  That means you might want us to act on part of your action, but not all of it.  We can draft your Plaintiff’s Claim, attend a settlement conference with you if you are already in court or we can help you negotiate a settlement. The costs of full representation will also be discussed with you, as payment plans are available if required.