5. Sign your retainer agreement and pay a deposit

When you hire a lawyer they usually ask you to sign a retainer agreement. A retainer agreement is a written document that says what you’re hiring the lawyer to do and how you’re charged for the lawyer’s services.

You can hire a lawyer to represent you on all issues resulting from your separation or . If you only want help for a part of your case you have to hire a lawyer who offers “unbundled” or “limited scope” services.

A retainer agreement may also include other details like:

  • how you will communicate with each other
  • if and how you are charged for emails and telephone calls
  • when you will be charged for services

Ask about anything you’re not sure about or don’t understand. And, get a copy of your retainer agreement for your records.


Lawyers usually charge an hourly rate. They may also have other people helping them on your file who charge a different rate. For example, they may rely on another lawyer, paralegal, or a law clerk for help with your case.

The retainer agreement should have these details. It should also say if there are fixed fees for specific tasks like a half-day or daily rate for going to court.

Lawyers usually also charge for other expenses, such as photocopies and court filing fees. These are called . You should check what the retainer agreement says about these types of fees.

Your retainer agreement should tell you how much these fees are. Your lawyer should be able to give you an estimate of the fee and disbursements. You can ask your lawyer to put this estimate in writing and to get in touch with you if something happens to change the estimate.

Pay a deposit

Lawyers usually ask for a deposit before they agree to start work on a case. This is sometimes also called a retainer.

If your lawyer asks for a retainer, you can ask:

  • how much work the retainer will likely cover
  • if they would agree on a payment plan if you’re not able to pay all of the deposit at once

Get a receipt to show the amount that you paid. If the total cost of your legal work is less than the retainer, you should get the unused portion back.

Legal Aid certificates

If you have a legal aid certificate, this means that Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) pays a lawyer to work for you.

If your lawyer accepts your certificate, you should not have to pay a deposit. You should also not pay any money directly to the lawyer who accepts your certificate. Your legal aid certificate is meant to cover the entire cost of your matter. If you need more time, your lawyer can ask LAO for more hours.

In some cases, you may need to sign a “contribution agreement”. This is an agreement between you and LAO where you agree to pay back LAO some money based on your income.

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