This article recently appeared in CBA National Magazine as an interest piece.
The legal system in Canada is complicated, arcane, and out of reach for the majority of people. One important reason for that is that the cost of getting answers to legal questions is generally very high.
Lawyers are expensive relative to other professionals. While it is tempting to blame high rates on self-interested lawyers, there are structural considerations that we need to acknowledge if we are ever to address our access to justice crisis meaningfully.
Let’s start with some figures. The average hourly wage of an Ontarian who provides professional, scientific, and technical services is $33.56 per hour. The Law Society of Ontario’s fee schedule for their own work sets the price of a lawyer with 10 years of experience at $300/hr. Business lawyers in Toronto charge around $350-$700/hr. Why is this so?
The first barrier to consulting a lawyer is finding the right one. Unless they have a family friend who is a lawyer, the typical person can’t get a “quick answer to a “quick question” because of the administrative costs for law firms. For a small firm, merely opening a new file for a new client, running a conflict check, and collecting identity information can cost up to $300, because of the time involved and record-keeping requirements.
Although a client might think they’re giving the lawyer $300 of business, opening a new file often involves a free initial consultation, or at least some time spent by the lawyer in speaking to the new client (if only to know if the lawyer can help the client). This is why lawyers are reluctant to take on “small” files. If the client never goes back to the lawyer, then that’s a $0 client.
Some more reasons that lawyers cost so much are that there are so many laws, all of the regulatory costs, and the costs of actually becoming a lawyer. For an in depth dive into all of these road blocks and more thoughts on why this is the case, read the whole article here.