How are you picking your lawyer?

Criminal Defence

In the case of Kay v. Randell and Randell 1997 CanLII 2894 (BC SC) Master Patterson made the  following comment regarding how the clients in that case had come to select their lawyer: 

In her evidence, Mrs. Randell said she trusted Mr. Kay to do the right thing and relied on what he told her. An indication of the lack of sophistication of the clients in the obtaining and use of legal services is that they hired Mr. Kay on the basis of an advertisement in the Yellow Pages,  without apparently making many or any other inquiries. (emphasis added) 

Many times people will select a lawyer based on the 2017 version of the yellow pages, the  Internet. They will google their legal problem and a list of lawyers will come up who profess to have particular skill or expertise in that area of the law. But does that lawyer really have the necessary experience and expertise? How do you know? 

In the era of internet search terms and websites many lawyers will state that they specialize in a  particular area of law. This is so even though the British Columbia Law Society Rules expressly forbid a lawyer from proclaiming him or herself a specialist in any area of the law. Here is the  Rule: 

Specialization  4.3-1

Unless otherwise authorized by the Legal Profession Act, the Law Society Rules, or this  Code or by the Benchers, a lawyer must: 

(a) not use the title “specialist” or any similar designation suggesting a recognized special  status or accreditation in any other marketing activity, and 

(b) take all reasonable steps to discourage use, in relation to the lawyer by another person, of the title “specialist” or any similar designation suggesting a recognized special status or  accreditation in any marketing activity. 

Many lawyers will hold themselves out as “trial lawyers”. One would assume this means they go to court a lot, are experienced in the trial process, obtained a number of (hopefully favourable) judgments, and are comfortable being in court. But did you know a newly minted lawyer can hold him or herself out as a “trial lawyer” without ever having conducted a single trial? There is no rule against it.  

Are you choosing our lawyer without doing your own due diligence? 

Well, how do you find out if the lawyer you are about to hire is the real deal? The internet can be very helpful in this regard. Are you relying on those “Rate My Lawyer” websites where all sorts of accolades are posted from people who may or may not be qualified to give an opinion on the quality of the legal work (or worse are doing favours for a friend or family member in the law  business). You will see things such as “Smith is the best lawyer I ever had!” Well perhaps they have only had one lawyer in their life, or Smith was the cheapest one they could find. How can you ever verify what is said on these types of websites? You cannot. 

Flashy websites do not a good lawyer make. Any lawyer can don his or her court robes and stand for a photo at a Courthouse; or be photographed pouring over legal briefs at “3 a.m.” Be wary of advertising claims on websites such as “over 70 years of combined experience”. What does that mean? You could be hiring of firm comprised of 70 first year lawyers or 25 lawyers of 2 years experience. You get the idea. 

If you really want to find out if the lawyer you are about to trust with your case and your future is a trial lawyer the first question should be “how many trials have you done”? The second question should be “how many trials have you done as lead counselor on your own” Ask what type of trials the lawyer has done –are you entrusting a six-figure personal injury case to a lawyer who has never done a Supreme Court trial and only appeared in Small Claims court? Has the lawyer ever done a jury trial? Does the lawyer have experience in the type of law that you are  dealing with? These are important questions to ask of the professional in whom you are about to entrust your case.  

Perhaps you should be more interested in what Judges have said about the lawyers who appear in front of them, or what the Law Society has to say about his or her discipline record. You can find out a great deal about how experienced a lawyer is by checking the reported Court decisions online. You can go to the British Columbia Provincial, Supreme or Court of Appeal websites and  plug in the lawyer’s name and do a search. Any reported judgment will show up in your search if that lawyer was counsel on the case. Another great free resource is a website called WWW.  CanLii.org. This website covers cases all across Canada. Type in your selected lawyer’s name and see for yourself what his or her track record is and the level of experience. You may even  find that he or she is a past (or present) party to a court action! 

You can also check the B.C. Law Society’s website www.LawSociety.bc.ca to see if your chosen lawyer has ever been suspended or otherwise disciplined by the Law Society, and for what. You can find out what year your lawyer was called to the bar. You can go to WWW.Martindale.com  to see where your lawyer went to university and what other lawyers knowledgeable in their field have to say about your lawyer’s experience and standing. Every lawyer has a law degree from somewhere; wouldn’t you like to know from where? And half of those lawyers graduated in the bottom half of their class. 

Ask around, get informed, and make sure the lawyer you choose has the necessary qualifications,  knowledge and experience to get the job done. An attractive headshot, internet anecdotal ratings, and a flashy webpage should not be the criteria upon you choose your legal representation.  

Dig deep and ask the tough questions before deciding on your legal representation. After all,  isn’t that what you would want your lawyer to do?  

 This article is intended to be an overview of the law and is for informational purposes only. Readers are cautioned that this article does not constitute legal or professional advice and should not be relied on as such. Rather, readers should obtain specific legal advice in relation to the issues they are facing.

Experience counts. Contact P.G. Kent-Snowsell for a consultation regarding your litigation matter.     

P.G. Kent-Snowsell
Partner in Criminal Defence
Lindsay Kenney LLP – Langley Office