3. Sign your retainer agreement and pay a deposit

When you hire a lawyer or paralegal, they usually ask you to sign a agreement. This is a written document that says:

  • what you’re hiring the lawyer or paralegal to do
  • how you will be charged for their services

For example, you can hire a lawyer to represent you for your whole case or for a specific task, like helping you prepare for or .

A retainer agreement may also include other details like:

  • how you will communicate with each other
  • if and how you will be charged for emails and telephone calls
  • when and how 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 and paralegals usually keep track of the time spent on your case and you an hourly rate. They may also have other people helping them with your case who charge a different rate. For example, they may get another lawyer, paralegal, or law clerk to help with your case.

Or, they may have fixed fees for doing certain things, like a half-day or daily rate for going to court.

Or, the fees may depend on the amount of money or value of the property involved in your case.

Lawyers and paralegals usually also charge for other expenses, such as photocopies and court filing fees. These are called .

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 and paralegals usually ask for a before they agree to start work on a case. This is sometimes called a retainer.

If your lawyer or paralegal 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 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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