What can you expect your lawyer to do?

Provincial Court
Supreme Court

A lawyer will:

  • explain the law and your legal options to you, and
  • give you advice on what to do.

They can:

  • act on your behalf, or
  • help you act on your own behalf.

That means they:

  • will look:
    • at your situation, and
    • the documents related to your situation,
  • listen to:
    • what you have to say about your situation, and
    • what you want to happen, and
  • give you advice about what you can do.

Some lawyers now offer unbundled legal services, which means you can pay them to help you with part of your family law problem, and you handle the rest of your case yourself. (See below for more about this.)

A lawyer's job isn't to make decisions for you.

Their job is to help you. But most lawyers won't follow instructions they think are unreasonable.

Talk to another lawyer to see what they think if your lawyer:

  • won't do what you want, and
  • says you're being unreasonable.

If the second lawyer also says you're being unreasonable, think again about what you want.

If a lawyer thinks you're being unreasonable, they can withdraw from your case (stop working with you).

A lawyer can only help with your legal issues. If you need emotional support, talk to a friend, an advocate, or a counsellor.

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of talking with your lawyer:

  • Speak slowly and calmly when you tell your lawyer about your case.
  • Try to talk about your case as if it had happened to someone else. This might help you stay calm and stick to the facts.
  • Write down the facts about your case in the order they happened. Take the list with you when you meet your lawyer so:
    • you don't forget anything, and
    • your lawyer gets a clear idea about what happened and when it happened.
  • If you don't understand what your lawyer's saying, ask them to speak slowly and explain what they said.
  • Take notes while your lawyer's talking to you. If you're not sure about something, read them out to your lawyer to make sure you've understood them properly.
  • If you have an advocate, take them with you to your meeting with your lawyer.

What to ask your lawyer

Here are some questions that you might want to ask your lawyer:

  • What are my choices? After you've explained your problem, ask your lawyer to talk about your options:
    • If you don't understand something they say, ask them to explain.
    • You don't need to make a decision right away. Take time to think about what your lawyer said.
  • What do I need to support my case? Ask your lawyer what documents or information they need from you. For example, you might need to get banks statements, tax returns, or receipts from a daycare centre.
  • What can I get help with? Ask your lawyer to explain:
    • what parts of your case you'll need help with,
    • what steps are involved, and
    • what you can do to save time or money.
  • Can I get help from both an advocate and a lawyer? Some lawyers might not agree to work with an advocate. Tell your lawyer if:
    • you have an advocate, or
    • you want help from one.
  • How long will it take? This will be a hard question to answer in most cases because you don’t have control over what the other person will do. But you can ask your lawyer if:
    • they think there might be delays, and
    • there's anything you can do to shorten or avoid any delays.
  • How much will it cost? This will be another hard question for a lawyer to answer because it depends on so many things that you or your lawyer can't control. Some lawyers charge a flat rate for some tasks. Your lawyer should have you sign a retainer agreement that spells out all the details about billing.
  • When do I have to pay? The date you pay will be part of the retainer agreement with your lawyer (it will be one of things you agree about when you decide to work together). Some lawyers require a payment up front (called a retainer). Some lawyers bill every month and give you 14 to 30 days to pay. Sometimes a lawyer might agree to collect some of their fees when everything is settled, but this is rare. You're entitled to get a detailed bill before you pay. This will show how much time your lawyer spent on each step.

Ask your lawyer if they'd help with only a certain part of your case, while you do the rest. For example, you might only want them to write your affidavit. If they'll do this, ask how much it will cost. This kind of service is called unbundled legal services. See Unbundled legal services on this website and on the People's Law School website for more details.

Some lawyers won't work on only part of a case.

What if you have a problem with your lawyer or their bill?

If you have a problem with your lawyer or their bill, try to sort things out with your lawyer first.

If you can't sort things out with your lawyer, you have a few options:

  • If you're not happy with your bill, you can ask for it to be reviewed.
  • If you're having problems with a lawyer you're paying, contact the Law Society of British Columbia for advice on what to do next.
  • If you're having problems with a legal aid lawyer, see the Legal Aid BC website for advice on what to do next.

See Working with Your Legal Aid Lawyer for more information about working with a legal aid lawyer.