Lawyers & Legal Help

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Finding a lawyer in private practice (lawyer you would pay)

Lawyers in private practice: budget-friendly options

Here are some things to ask about if you are looking for a lawyer in private practice and cost is an issue:

  • do you offer pro bono (free) help?
  • can you help me with just part of my case? Lawyers call this a "Limited Scope Retainer"
  • do you offer coaching for people who are representing themselves? Coaching is basically out-of-court strategic support
  • do you charge a flat fee for this type of work?
  • will you consider a contingency fee agreement?
  • what is your hourly rate?
  • can the lawyer wait to get paid once you get the money you are seeking (for example, spousal support, matrimonial property division).

More Information about How lawyers charge for their work

Lawyers in private practice who are part of Legal Info Nova Scotia's Lawyer Referral Service offer an initial up to 30 minute consultation for no more than $20 plus tax.  The Lawyer Referral Service has information about what fee options Lawyer Referral Service members may consider after the intial consultation, including lower cost fee options like:

  • contingency fee arrangements
  • limited scope retainer
  • flat fees.

Online Lawyer Directory

Nova Scotia Barristers' Society

The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society (NSBS) regulates lawyers in Nova Scotia, and has an online directory of all lawyers licensed to practice law in Nova Scotia. You can find a lawyer by name, law firm, or location. The directory also says the year the lawyer was called to the Nova Scotia Bar, and whether the lawyer has any disciplinary history.

Contact

www.nsbs.org. Click on "Lawyer Search"
Telephone: 902-422-1491

Telephone Directories

Lawyers are listed in the telephone book, both online and in print, in alphabetical order as well as under location and the type of law they do.

Your Employee Assistance Program

If you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in your workplace you should contact your EAP to see whether they provide help in finding and/or paying for a lawyer in private practice, or cover a consultation with a lawyer.

Francophone lawyers

Pour obtenir de l’information en français ainsi qu’une liste des juristes d’expression française en Nouvelle Écosse, veuillez communiquer avec le centre Accès Justice Access, un project de l’Association des juristes d’expression française de la Nouvelle-Écosse (AJEFNE). L’AJEFNE est un organisme à but non lucratif fondé en 1994 pour promouvoir l’accès aux services juridiques pour la population acadienne et francophone de la Nouvelle-Écosse.

Contact:

www.ajefne.ns.ca

1663, rue Brunswick / 1663 Brunswick Street, Halifax, Nouvelle-Écosse B3J 3Z6
Téléphone: 902-433-2085 ou 1-844-250-8471

Persons with a disability

If you are a person with a disability ReachAbility may be able to help you find a lawyer through their Legal Referral Service.

Contact:
ReachAbility
Telephone: 902-429-5878 or 1-866-429-5878

Personal recommendation

Trusted service providers at community agencies, or your friends, family members or co-workers may be able to give you suggestions about finding a lawyer in private practice. 

Your union

If you are a member of a union, it is worth speaking with your union to see whether they can offer any help in finding a lawyer, or help with covering the cost of a consultation with a lawyer or legal fees.

How lawyers charge for their work

When you first meet with your lawyer, or soon afterwards if you decide to hire them, your lawyer should give you information about:

  • their legal fees and how they are calculated
  • interest charged if you do not pay your bill on time
  • out-of-pocket expenses (disbursements).

A lawyer must not charge or accept a fee or disbursement, including interest, unless it is fair and reasonable and has been disclosed in a timely fashion. ( Rule 3.6-1 Code of Professional Conduct for NS Lawyers)

Fees are what lawyers charge for their legal services, including their time, expertise and skills.  Fees should be fair and reasonable, and your lawyer should let you know about them in a timely way. What is fair and reasonable will depend on factors like:

  • time and effort needed and spent
  • lawyer’s experience and abilities
  • difficulty and complexity of the issues
  • what is at stake for you (for example, amount of money, importance to you)
  • any estimate or range of fees the lawyer gave you
  • fee arrangement you were told about and agreed to
  • the outcome of the case.

Disbursements are out-of-pocket expenses paid to third parties on the client's behalf, like:

  • couriers, printing, postage
  • long-distance telephone, faxing
  • service of documents (process server)
  • court filing fees
  • government fees
  • medical reports
  • assessments
  • transcripts
  • expert fees.

Do not be afraid to ask questions. You need to have a good, professional working relationship with your lawyer, and that includes being comfortable talking about the expected costs involved, and bills you get.  Lawyers have an obligation to explain the basis of fees and disbursements they charge.

Information from the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society about Lawyers' Fees

 

Tight budget? Ask your lawyer about flexible fee arrangements like flat fees, a contingency fee, or a Limited Scope Retainer.  Legal Info Nova Scotia's Lawyer Referral Service has information about lawyers who consider budget-friendly fee arrangements.

Flat or fixed fee

Lawyers may charge a flat fee for services like:

  • a will, power of attorney, personal directive
  • an uncontested divorce
  • incorporation of a company
  • real estate purchase and sale
  • a first consultation.

The lawyer’s out-of-pocket expenses (disbursements), if any, will generally be extra though. Ask your lawyer for an estimate of those expenses.

Hourly rate

Lawyers usually bill on an hourly basis.  Your lawyer’s time on your case includes things like research, telephone calls, emails, texts, letters, meetings, legal document preparation, discoveries, and court or tribunal appearances. A lawyer’s hourly rate usually depends on the lawyer’s years of experience - newer lawyers are generally less expensive than more experienced lawyers.  The general range is from about $150 to $500 an hour.

Contingency fee

A contingency fee is a percentage of the money the lawyer gets for you if successful. If you win, the lawyer gets the percentage agreed on as the lawyer's fee. 

...a lawyer may enter into a written agreement...that provides that the lawyer’s fee is contingent, in whole or in part, on the outcome of the matter for which the lawyer’s services are to be provided (Rule 3.6-2 Code of Professional Conduct for NS Lawyers)

Lawyers often use a contingency fee agreement in lawsuits where the client cannot pay up front, such as for a personal injury claim.  If you lose the case, you do not pay the lawyer any fee.  However, you may still have to pay the disbursements.

The percentage is open to negotiation between you and your lawyer, but must be fair and reasonable.  The percentage is based on factors like: the likelihood of success, nature and complexity of the claim, expense and risk of going ahead, amount of expected recovery, and who is to get an award of costs.

A contingency fee agreement must be in writing, and must include certain terms and conditions that come from Rule 77.14 of Nova Scotia's Civil Procedure Rules.

Most contingency fee agreements say that if you decide to change lawyers you will usually need to pay the first lawyer for the work they did on your file up to that point.

A contingency fee agreement is a contract with your lawyer.  Read it carefully and be sure you understand its terms before you sign it.  You may want to review the agreement with another lawyer before you sign it.

Retainer

Most lawyers will ask you to pay a retainer fee up front when you hire them, unless you have agreed on a flat fee, contingency fee, or other fee arrangement. A retainer is a lump sum of money provided to a lawyer when you hire them.    The retainer is kept in the lawyer’s trust account, and covers legal fees and other expenses for the legal work. It is also sometimes referred to as a retainer fee.   The amount of the retainer fee varies from lawyer to lawyer, and depends on the case.  The lawyer will do work until the retainer runs out, and ask for a new retainer if more work needs to be done, or until the legal work is done.  After the legal work is done, any balance left after the lawyer's bill is paid would be returned to you.

You may also be asked to sign a retainer agreement, sometimes also called an engagement letter.  A retainer agreement is a contract with your lawyer. 

A retainer agreement establishes the lawyer-client relationship, and may cover things like:

  • how much you can expect to pay (ballpark estimate)
  • fees, disbursements and other costs
  • retainer amount (if applicable)
  • billing format, when bills are due, and interest charged if you do not pay your bill on time
  • scope of the retainer: what you have hired the lawyer to do, and what you have not
  • whether work may be delegated (for example, to a paralegal, articled clerk, associate, administrative support staff)
  • withdrawal, transfer or termination of services
  • how communication will happen (for example, email, phone, letters, etc)
  • confidentiality.

Full Scope Retainer or Limited Scope Retainer?

Full Service/Scope Retainer: The lawyer will provide full representation, dealing with all aspects of the matter from start to finish, to resolve the client's legal problem.

Limited Scope Retainer:  The lawyer provides legal services for part, but not all, of a client’s legal problem, by agreement with the client. This is sometimes also called 'unbundled legal services'.

Examples of a Limited Scope Retainer are where a lawyer:

  • drafts or reviews court documents, like pleadings or a brief, as a 'ghost-writer'
  • only does part of a court process, like questioning a witness (direct or cross-examination), or doing a sentencing hearing
  • advises about whether a client should accept a proposed settlement or transaction, like giving independent legal advice on a proposed separation agreement
  • provides outside court logistical and strategic help to a self-represented litigant, sometimes called 'coaching'.

Representing Yourself?  A Limited Scope Retainer or 'unbundled' legal services may be a good option.  

 

Complaints about a lawyer

Making a complaint about a lawyer

The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society regulates Nova Scotia lawyers, and handles complaints about lawyers relating to the rules of ethical and professional conduct (Code of Professional Conduct) lawyers must follow, and may discipline a lawyer if they have broken those rules. The Nova Scotia Barristers' Society does not deal with complaints about a lawyer's fees (see Disputes about a lawyer's bill), and does not generally investigate complaints alleging a lawyer was negligent (made a legal mistake).  It is best to contact the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society if you have questions about whether they can help in your situation.

If you feel your lawyer was negligent you will likely need to speak with another lawyer to get a legal opinion about the situation. You can also contact the Lawyers' Insurance Association of Nova Scotia, a not-for-profit company that provides mandatory liability insurance and administers the insurance program for practising insured members of the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society.

Go to the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society website at nsbs.org/complaints-process for details about the complaint process, or contact the Barristers’ Society at:
Telephone: (902) 422-1491
Address: Cogswell Tower, 800-2000 Barrington Street, Halifax NS B3J 3K1.

Disputes about a lawyer's bill

The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society does not deal with disputes about a lawyer’s bill. If you have a dispute with your lawyer about the lawyer’s bill:

1. Speak with or write to your lawyer. Ask for more detailed information about the bill. Ask the lawyer to explain any fees or disbursements (out-of-pocket expenses) you do not understand. If you cannot resolve the dispute directly with the lawyer, see if you can speak with the managing lawyer or executive director of the firm, assuming it is not your lawyer.  If that does not work, you have the option of going to Small Claims Court to have the lawyer’s bill assessed. This assessment of a lawyer's bill is also called a "taxation" of a lawyer's bill.

2. Small Claims Court - Taxation. ‘Taxation’ means a Small Claims Court adjudicator can ‘tax’ or review your lawyer’s bill, including fees and disbursements, to decide whether the bill is reasonable. The taxation process includes looking at whether the percentage fee under a contingency fee agreement is reasonable. 

Contact the Small Claims Court for more information. You will find court contact information at www.courts.ns.ca, or look under ‘Courts’ in the government pages of the telephone book.

Lawyer Referral Service

(Legal Info Nova Scotia's Lawyer Referral Service)

Click here for other ways to find a lawyer in Nova Scotia.

Need a lawyer? Don't know which lawyer to choose?

We may be able to help. Call the Legal Information Society's Lawyer Referral Service at 1-800-665-9779 (toll free) or 902-455-3135 in the Halifax area.

Since 1992, the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia has operated this key legal resource, and has referred thousands of Nova Scotians to a private lawyer. Lawyer Referral Service members offer an initial consultation of up to 30 minutes for a fee of only $20 plus tax.

Please note that the lawyer is not expected to do legal work for you during the initial 30 minute consultation, just review your legal problem and talk about options you may have to solve your legal problem, and how much it may cost to have the legal work done.

How does the Lawyer Referral Service work?

  • Call the Lawyer Referral Service
  • We will ask you some questions to:
    • find out whether you have a legal problem and whether a lawyer can help you
    • determine what type of legal problem you may have
    • determine whether there are other resources that might help you (for example, Nova Scotia Legal Aid or a community agency), and
    • give you legal information. 
  • Some of the questions may be personal, but we are asking to try to make sure we are making an appropriate referral, and to give you helpful legal information
  • The service is anonymous, and confidential
  • If it is appropriate to provide a lawyer referral, we will do our best to refer you to a private lawyer who does the type of law you need, in your part of the province.  Unfortunately we can't always help or refer you to a lawyer, but if not, we will try to refer you to other resources that might help
  • Referrals are made on a rotation basis, taking area of law and geographic location into account
  • When we provide a lawyer referral, we give you a lawyer's name and telephone number.   It is up to you to contact the lawyer to set up an appointment
  • Make sure you tell the lawyer you were referred by the Legal Information Society's Lawyer Referral Service
  • You can meet with the lawyer for up to 30 minutes for a fee of $20 plus tax. Consultations are generally in the lawyer's office, although it is up to the lawyer.  During this half hour you will discuss your problem with the lawyer and get an idea of what your options are and costs involved.  Do not expect the lawyer to do any legal work for you during the initial consultation. Legal work includes things like giving a legal opinion or advice, reviewing, interpreting, or drafting documents.
  • Prepare for your meeting with the lawyer.  Think about what you want to say - what are the most important points?  Take important documents with you, including any court order(s), contracts, financial information (if relevant), etc., so that you can leave the documents (or copies) with the lawyer if you decide to hire them. Briefly summarize your legal problem.  Keep in mind that 30 minutes goes by very quickly!  See our Guide to a Successful Interview with a Lawyer.
  • If you decide to hire the lawyer after the initial 30 minute consultation, and the lawyer agrees to represent you, you will need to work out a fee arrangement directly with the lawyer. This usually means you will be paying the lawyer's regular fees. Be certain you understand the fee arrangement. See How Lawyers Charge for their work for more information.

Can I get a list of lawyer who are part of the Lawyer Referral Service?

No.  We cannot provide a list of lawyers who are registered with the Lawyer Referral Service.

What information do we have about the lawyers who are part of the Lawyer Referral Service?

We have the following information:

  • areas of law the lawyer does
  • where the lawyer is
  • fee arrangements the lawyer may consider (eg. regular fees, contingency fee agreement, limited scope retainer, flat fees, fee for service)
  • whether the lawyer offers in-office, telephone or email consultations
  • how long the lawyer has practised law
  • whether the lawyer can meet the client where they are instead of at the lawyer's office
  • whether notary public services are offered
  • whether the lawyer is a member of the Bar anywhere other than Nova Scotia
  • whether the lawyer offers service in languages other than English.

How do I use the Lawyer Referral Service?

How do I use the Lawyer Referral Service?

Call the Lawyer Referral Service at:

902-455-3135 (Halifax Regional Municipality) or
1-800-665-9779 (toll free in NS)

When is the Lawyer Referral Service open?

Monday to Friday 9:30  am to 5:00 pm

Closed 1 pm to 2 pm. Closed weekends and holidays.

Please note that unfortunately we cannot accept messages for return phone calls. Calls are answered as they come in to the office.  If you are calling when the service is open and can't get through it means the Legal Information Counsellors are on the phone right now, so please try again soon.

Finding a Commissioner of Oaths or a Notary Public

Commissioner of Oaths

Commissioners are authorized to take your oath or solemn affirmation when you sign an affidavit (sworn or affirmed document) or statutory declaration. When you sign an affidavit in front of a Commissioner of Oaths you are swearing or affirming that the contents of the document are true. The Commissioner will sign the document as well, and type, print or stamp their name and the words “A Commissioner of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia”

For information about becoming a Commissioner of Oaths visit the Nova Scotia Department of Justice website at www.gov.ns.ca/just/Legal_Services/commissioner_oaths.asp, or call 902-424-4223.

Finding a Commissioner of Oaths

  • All practising lawyers are Commissioners of Oaths.  The Nova Scotia Barristers' Society has an online lawyer directory at: http://nsbs.org/member-search
  • You can also call the Nova Scotia Department of Justice, Deputy Minister’s office, at 902-424-1182 or 902-424-4223 for the name of a Commissioner of Oaths in your community.

  • You can have some types of documents commissioned at any ACCESS Nova Scotia location in the province, at no cost.  Contact Access Nova Scotia for details

  •  If you are filing documents with the court that need to be commissioned you can have that done at the court. Depending on the court there may be no fee to have court staff commission documents, or there may be a fee. Contact the court for more information.
  • Other people in your community may also be Commissioners, such as:

Finding a Notary (Notary Public)

A Notary can "Notarize" copies of documents. This means verifying that a copy of a document is a true copy of the original. Contact a lawyer if you need the services of a notary.  Legal Info Nova Scotia has information about lawyers who offer notary services, and approximate costs, so please contact us at 1 800 665-9779 or 902-455-3135 or by email if you are having difficulty finding a notary and we will try to help.

Authentication of Canadian documents for use outside Canada

Global Affairs Canada, Authentication Services Section, authenticates Canadian documents for use abroad, including:

  • official Canadian documents, such as birth, marriage or death certificates, educational documents (transcripts, degrees, diplomas), criminal clearance certificates; and
  • documents signed by a Canadian notary public or Commissioner of Oaths.

Global Affairs also issues Statements in lieu of Certificates of Non-Impediment to Marriage Abroad for persons who want to get married outside Canada in a country where such a document is needed. For more information visit international.gc.ca or call 1 800 267-8376.

Guide to a successful interview with a lawyer

This page will help you prepare for a first interview with a lawyer.

Introduction

This guide describes 4 steps to take before you see a lawyer. Before you see your lawyer, try to organize all your important information or documents so you and your lawyer can make the best use of your time together, and focus on the legal parts of your problem.  Click here to download the entire guide in pdf.

This guide provides general information on how to prepare for an appointment with a lawyer. It does not explain the law. Legal advice must come from a lawyer, who can tell you why you should do something in your case or whether you should take certain actions.

Step 1: Fill out the Information Sheet

Fill out the Information SheetClick here for an interactive pdf version that you can fill out online and print.
Take the Information Sheet with you to the interview.

If there are other important names and addresses that the lawyer should be aware of, put them in too. If your problem has a file or case number, include that as well.

If possible, print or type your Information Sheet.

Step 2: Prepare your Documents List

Take all letters and documents about your legal problem with you to the interview. If you are in doubt about an item, take it anyway. Next, put the documents in order according to their dates.

Click here for a Document List that you can use to list the documents, including letters you have. For example, include documents:

  • you prepared
  • you got from the court
  • you have been served.

If you have little Post-It notes, put the number of the document on a Post-It note. Attach the Post-It note to each document so that it corresponds to the Document List.

Step 3: Prepare your written statement


Write out your story in point form and in the order of dates and times they happened. This is your written statement. Put in all the facts that you consider important. Be specific about dates and who said what. When you write out your story, it should not be more than two pages. This will force you to focus on the important points.

Take the written statement with you to the interview. It will help refresh your memory when you are talking to the lawyer.

Tell the lawyer if you have difficulty reading or writing.

If you have questions you want to ask the lawyer, write them out and take them with you. Put them in order of importance to you. It’s easy to forget the questions if you don’t write them down. The lawyer will want to know all the details.

The lawyer will want to know:

  • Exact dates, if possible.
  • Who said what to whom – the exact words, not a summary.
  • Who was there during conversations and how long the conversations lasted.

Important: The lawyer needs to know all the details, good and bad, about your case. If you are completely frank, the lawyer will be in the best position to handle your problem and advise you on it.  Your lawyer is not there to judge you, and can't give you good advice without knowing all the facts.

Step 4: Going to the interview

There are four “S’s” to a successful interview with a lawyer:

  • slow,
  • straightforward,
  • specific, and
  • systematic.

1. Slow

People tend to talk too fast in a lawyer interview. This is natural. Many of us are nervous when we have to see a lawyer. We want to tell all.

Think about it this way: hearing your story is like eating dinner.

If the lawyer is eating too fast, he or she won’t be able to digest it properly.

If you tell your story slowly, this gives the lawyer time to digest and understand your story. If you talk slowly, you give the lawyer time to ask questions.

You will avoid missing important facts.

The better prepared you are for the interview, the better advice the lawyer can give you.

2. Straightforward

All of us want to be seen in a good light. When we talk to other people, we usually try to emphasize the favourable things about ourselves. There is nothing wrong with this. It helps us all get along. However, when you’re talking to a lawyer, things are different.

You need to give the lawyer both the good information and the bad information. If you did something wrong, admit it to the lawyer. It will most likely be brought to his/her attention later anyway, by the opposing party.

The lawyer needs to know the good and the bad information at the beginning. That will help the lawyer to give you good advice and save time and possibly money in the long run. Unless the lawyer knows everything, he or she cannot give you good advice.

Here’s a situation that illustrates the point. It’s about a man who was fired for being late for work. He does not want to answer the lawyer’s question.

Q. Were you late for work on March 13, 2015?

A. Late! You should talk to Margo Smith. She is never on time. She gets away with murder.

Q. But on March 13, 2015, were you late?

A. Is it my fault there was a car accident on the Port Mann Bridge? These things happen!

Q. On Mar 13, 2015, were you on time for work? (FIRM VOICE)

A. Don’t you listen? I’ve explained that! (LOUD VOICE)

The lawyer asked the man, “Were you late for work?” But the man did not answer the question. Instead, he gave his excuses for being late. This uses up time at the interview.

A good exchange goes like this:

Q. Were you late for work on March 13, 2015?

A. Yes!

Q. What was the reason?

A. There was a car accident on the Port Mann Bridge. I was stuck in traffic for thirty minutes.

Q. Were you ever late before?

A. No.

Q. Were other people ever fired for lateness?

A. No. Marge Smith was late all the time and she wasn’t fired!

This exchange goes to the heart of the problem.

Always be straightforward. Answer the questions directly. Many of the questions the lawyer will ask require simple answers.

The simple, straightforward answer is best.

3. Specific

We all tend to talk in generalities. For example:

  • This person is good.
  • That movie is terrific!

Generalities are not useful when you are dealing with the law.

Law requires specific information. If you are asked a question such as: “On what date did this happen?” it is best to give the exact date, e.g., March 15, 2015.

If you can’t be specific, be as specific as possible. “It happened the week of March 12, 2015.” Do not summarize conversations. Instead, tell the lawyer, “Mr. Jones said…and then I said…” Repeat the exact words that were said. The more straightforward you are in the interview, the better advice the lawyer can give you.

4. Systematic

When you are telling your story to the lawyer, tell it in chronological order. You cannot tell everything at once. Here is an example of what can go wrong.

A woman is describing to her lawyer how she got fired from her job.

Q. Did Mr. Jones, your boss, call you in his office?

A. Yes.

Q. What did he say?

A. He said Mrs. Smith, please sit down. I sat down. Then he said, “This is difficult, but I’m going to let you go, because of the Atlantic mix-up. Well, I can tell you, I can swear on my mother’s grave, I had nothing to do with the Atlantic mix-up.

The information in bold type breaks the flow of the story because Mrs. Smith has begun to talk about something new, “the Atlantic mix-up.”

The flow of the story is important. The explanation of “the Atlantic mix-up” can wait until later in the interview. It may also be important, but if the woman gives it here, it is confusing.

  • Keep your story in chronological order. Do not skip about from one time period to another.
  • If you have papers and documents, get them in order before you go to see the lawyer. It is a waste of your time to spend several minutes looking for one letter in a pile of letters.

Quick Summary

Remember

Fill out the Information Sheet and take it with you.

Fill out the Document List and take it with you.

  • Write out your story before you go to the lawyer.
  • If you have questions to ask the lawyer, write them down before you go. That way, you won’t forget them.
  • When you meet with the lawyer, remember to be slow, straightforward, specific and systematic.

This page is adapted, with permission, from Access Pro Bono BC.