Working well with a lawyer

If you're paying for a lawyer, it can be expensive. If you're getting a lawyer from Legal Aid, they'll only have a certain amount of time to spend with you. Here are some tips to help you get the most from working with a lawyer.

Prepare for your meetings

To make best use of your time with your lawyer, spend some time preparing what you'll need before you meet.

Collect useful information

Your lawyer needs to know all about you and your situation so they can help you. They might tell you what to bring with you or ask you to fill in a form before you come to see them.

If they don't, here are some documents you could take with you when you see your lawyer for the first time:

  • A piece of government-issued photo ID, like a driver’s licence. Lawyers have to make a photocopy of your photo ID at a first meeting.
  • Any legal documents about your case. For example, your separation agreement, any court orders, or court applications.
  • A list of questions plus paper and a pen so you can write down the answers.
  • A summary (a short version, typed, if possible) of your story. Add any important dates to your summary (for example, if you're talking to the lawyer about getting a divorce, write down the date you separated).
  • Notes about your ideas about what you want to have happen (for example, you want an increase in child support because your spouse's income has gone up).
  • The full names and birth dates of all your children.
  • The full name and address, if you know it, of the other person (the law calls them the other party) (for example, your spouse, ex-spouse, ex-partner, or your child's other parent).
  • The name of the other person’s lawyer, if they have one.
  • The date you started living with your partner and/or got married and the date you separated.
  • Details about where you and the other person work.

Ask your lawyer if they'd like you to bring any of these things (they might not want all this at the first meeting):

  • Details about your income and everything you know about the other person's income.
  • If you're going to talk about support or property, your tax returns or summaries for the past three years.
  • Copies of the other person's tax returns for the past three years, if you have them.
  • Your property tax assessments, if you own your home.
  • Your three most recent pay stubs (or proof of EI or disability payments).
  • Copies of the other person's pay stubs (or proof of EI or disability payments), if you have them.
  • Your citizenship or immigration documents, if you weren't born in Canada.
  • A list of everything that you and the other person own together or separately, including property, pension plans, RRSPs, TFSAs, or joint bank accounts (even if they're only in the other person's name).
  • A list of debts that either or both of you have.

If there's been family violence, bring:

  • The business cards of the police officers you've dealt with (if the police have been involved with your family).
  • A list of physical or mental abuse that can explain why you need, or have needed, a protection order, or an order dealing with custody, guardianship, or parenting arrangements, for example.

Make and keep copies of everything you give to the lawyer. Use a large envelope, file folder, or binder to organize them and keep them safe.

Other things to do before a meeting

  • Write out your questions before every meeting so you don't forget anything.
  • Ask a friend or advocate to go with you if you can. You can focus on listening and they can:
    • remind you about any questions you had, and
    • take notes of what the lawyer says and what you agree to do at the meeting.

Keep a record of all your meetings with your lawyer

Keep notes about all your meetings with your lawyer. Write down:

  • what decisions you made
  • what tasks you each agreed to do
  • when you each promised to do your tasks
  • how much time you spent with your lawyer

Help your lawyer work efficiently

If you have a Legal Aid lawyer, ask:

  • how much time they have to work on your case, and
  • how you can help make the most of that time.

If you're paying for a lawyer or working with a Legal Aid lawyer:

  • talk only about your case when you meet, and
  • limit the number of phone calls you make to your lawyer and keep them as short as possible. The lawyer includes phone calls in the time they charge you for. Keep a note of your calls to your lawyer and what you talk about.
Remember: Lawyers aren't social workers or counsellors. They're business people who provide legal advice, information, and representation. They're not working for free.

Be responsible

  • Write the dates and times of all your appointments and court appearances in your calendar.
  • Be on time for every meeting with your lawyer or court appearance. If you have an emergency, let your lawyer's office or court clerk know as soon as possible that you'll be late.
  • Ask questions if you don't understand something.
  • Answer all your lawyer's questions as soon as possible.
  • Tell your lawyer clearly what you decide at each stage of your case.
  • Do everything you told your lawyer you would do.

If you don't agree with something your lawyer is saying or doing, talk about it with them. Changing lawyers in the middle of a case can make things harder for everyone. For example, a new lawyer would need extra time to get to know you and your case.

If you do have to change lawyers:

  • be respectful, and
  • don't do it when it might affect your case (for example, the day before a court appearance).

Checklist for working well with a lawyer

Use our Checklist for working well with a lawyer to help you get organized.