WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU HAVE A LEGAL PROBLEM, BUT ARE UNCERTAIN IF YOU CAN AFFORD A LAWYER??? WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU HAVE A L EGAL PROBLEM, BUT ARE UNCERTAIN IF YOU CAN AFFORD A LAWYER???
1. Evaluate your end-goal:
2. Evaluate the numeric value or importance of addressing the issue. If it is something you can’t turn you back on, either:
3. Research and/or contact Alberta Legal Aid to determine if you qualify for a government subsidy. However, consider whether hiring your own private legal counsel is affordable:
4. You may hire a lawyer on a “limited retainer basis”:
5. You may also consider that you are not obligated to continue on with a lawyer after an initial consult:
6. Never forget that quality of life should always be factored into your assessment when deciding whether or not to hire a lawyer to represent you in court:
A lawyer should help make navigating the legal system easier, but it doesn’t necessarily make court less stressful or the outcome more certain. Often times, people underestimate how lengthy the court process is and struggle with the unknown of being at the mercy of the courthouse schedule. Lawyers do not select which Judge they will appear before and cannot determine conclusively when a matter can appear in court, as on certain days/weeks the roster will be full, although exceptions are made for emergencies. Further, once you nail a date down, each Judge has their own style and set of expectations which may result in your matter being delayed in order for more documents to be produced or other steps followed.
7. Consider Arbitration:
To fast-track your case, you can hire a privately paid judge or “Arbitrator”. However, be aware that an Arbitrator’s decision is also binding and more or less permanent, just like a Judge’s decision would be. The benefit of this is having finality to your case much more quickly than the public legal system can provide (the courthouses are backed up because they are short on Judges), which is generally much more cost efficient. Commonly, parties will equally share in the costs of Arbitration. However, the other side is not obligated to agree to this process, or pay for half of it. That said, if they will agree to the process, in some cases it is still worth it to pay the full costs up front and then ask for a cost award against the other side from the Arbitrator. A cost award won’t generally be granted however unless you are highly successful. If success is divided, costs are not generally awarded. This is also the way costs work in court.
8. Don’t expect your legal fees to be reimbursed:
Often people hear that a Judge can award “costs” thereby requiring the other side to pay for the legal fees you incurred. However, even if costs are granted in court, they are granted in accordance with a specified tariff system that does not cover the full cost of your legal fees. If you are successful in obtaining a cost award, the tariff system generally only provides for a marginal percentage of your fees to be covered so don’t bank on this for your future.
9. Be aware that you cannot get blood from a stone:
You can pursue someone for financial compensation for a loss, but if they are jobless, imprisoned, their company has collapsed or dissolved, all their savings have been spent, or they are claiming bankruptcy, you may not be able to recover the amount you are seeking - even if a Judge orders it.
That being said, when possible, a court may order periodic payments for a loss, or future payments allowing the payor to collect the money required to pay the funds owed (for example, a lump sum payment due within one year of the judgement). Remember, a Judge may grant an Order that does not include terms upon which payment will be made. It is so important to ask that terms specifying how payment will be made are included in the Order, otherwise you may end up back in court to enforce payment just when you thought everything was solved.
Judges rely heavily on lawyers or self-represented litigants to clarify exactly what relief they are asking for in a court order, even though they may use their discretion to deviate from what is requested. Keep in mind, they are busy making carefully calculated decisions on numerous cases and cannot be expected to craft solutions for issues that are not brought to their attention.