How To Beat Lawyer's Fees

QUESTION: Legal fees seem so high sometimes. Once you start paying, it seems you don't have any idea where it will all end. I want to save. Can I safely do my own will? Or a sale of my cottage? 


Dear Cheapskate,
You may think that, as a lawyer, I'm somewhat biased, but I think that even legal fees can be good value. This is particularly true of the two examples you use.....a will and a simple sale. 

Yes, it's conceivable that you could do it yourself, but most people cannot. Some can fix their cars, but most of us can't and would be better off if we decided not to try and end up in a worse mess. 

Being a Country Lawyer, I often have to deal with "homemade wills". I remember one where a fine old gentleman wrote that "my house and contents goes to my wife and everything else to my son". He probably felt that he had done his will successfully and saved $100.00 in legal fees. 

The problem was that he kept his money in a jar in the kitchen. Naturally his wife thought it was "contents" and his son thought it was part of "everything else". What the old gentleman thought, no one knows. His family had to get different lawyers, and each spent much more than had been saved by a "homemade will". 

A property sale is even more complex and trying to do it yourself may be like deciding to fix your Jaguar yourself. Most cottage sales may be completed by a lawyer for $650.00-$900.00, depending on what issues have to be resolved, explained, etc. Don’t forget HST and disbursements either! Ask for an estimate, no one should come close to guaranteeing a price without knowing what is involved. It is your cottage, your refuge, your retreat….you do not want the peace spoiled by a neighbor or someone else claiming rights over a portion of your property or you not being able to do what you want to do with the property or even suddenly not being able to access the property.

You're right that on other matters legal fees can seem to grow and grow. As I tell my clients, lawyers don't sell shoes or groceries. We sell time and services. When it comes to litigation, it is often impossible to tell how much time a case will take. Hence the dreaded hourly rate - hundreds of dollars per hour. 

For the most part, I prefer to send litigation clients on to an expert. We are often asked to stay involved on a consulting basis, just to be sure that everything continues on track and in an understandable manner. 

Even if the final bill can't be determined, you are entitled to an estimate, and to know how far in you are at any one time.