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Finding A Small Claims Court Lawyer

ontario wrongful dismissal lawyer toronto small claims lawyerQ. I lost my case a few weeks ago and really feel like I could have used a better small claims lawyer.  I know this sounds like a vague question, but for next time, what would I look for in choosing a small claims lawyer?

My biased response would be to simply choose Mr. Small Claims Court (!) but in all seriousness I am glad you asked this question because there are important factors the public should consider before choosing an appropriate lawyer for Small Claims Court.   (Note, choosing a lawyer based on the factors below does not guarantee success, as there are never guarantees of winning in small claims court.)

Is the lawyer expert in Small Claims Court cases?

We live in a time when the notion of general practitioner is “out” and specializing is “in”.  We have specialist doctors, accountants, financial advisors and lawyers.  While, of course, people realize that if they need tax advice they go to a tax lawyer and family law advice they go to a family lawyer, there is a misconception that any lawyer can handle a Small Claims Court regardless of his area of expertise.

This is a big mistake.  The Small Claims Court has its own intricate set of rules, procedures and guidelines that even the most seasoned lawyer is typically unaware of.  Just because a lawyer is over the age of 60, that does not mean that he knows how to approach a Small Claims Court case.  The lawyer you choose for Small Claims Court should have a litigation background and know Small Claims Court well enough so as to be considered an expert in it.

Does the lawyer have a passion for Small Claims Court?

Closely related to the lawyer’s experience with Small Claims Court is his passion for doing Small Claims Court work.  Almost all lawyers I have come into contact with look down at Small Claims Court as less important or prestigious than higher court and prefer to avoid it.

Indeed, it may seem strange that anyone can be excited to do Small Claims Court work. But consider this perspective.  Small Claims Court affords a lawyer the opportunity of helping the “little guy” obtain justice in a court of law.  It can also provide the same intellectual challenges as higher court, albeit for lesser amounts.

If the lawyer you speak to shows a disdain for Small Claims Court and only agrees to go to Small Claims Court reluctantly, then avoid him.

Does the lawyer have a proven track record?

If a lawyer has a passion for Small Claims Court, he should have a proven track record of success.  Are clients happy with the lawyer’s work?  Does the lawyer have any references or testimonial letters to provide you with?

Note, by “success” I do not mean how many wins and losses he has, but rather how successful is he with helping his clients achieve their objectives. This may mean providing the client with a quality draft claim or defence or by providing helpful consulting or representation. (Of course, the goal of the client is to win and collect the judgment or successfully defend a claim, but reasonable clients realize there are never any guarantees in court, and they are happy knowing their lawyer gave it his all.)

Are the lawyer’s legal fees reasonable?

Of course, you should ensure the lawyer you choose provides assistance at affordable and reasonable legal fees.  However, I intentionally left this to the end of this column because contrary to popular belief, you CAN go wrong with simply retaining the cheapest professional out there.  I also purposely used the word “reasonable” and not “cheap” because you do not want a lawyer or paralegal who is so cheap as to be ridiculous.

What constitutes reasonable versus “ridiculous” may be somewhat subjective, but if one sees a lawyer or law firm offering services that would otherwise cost several hundred dollars for as low as $75, it’s usually a tell-tale sign that there is either a catch or this person is desperate for the business.

At the end of the day, lower legal fees are important, but do not simply search around until you find the cheapest service around.  The top 3 considerations in this column should be your main factors when choosing a lawyer, and so long as the lawyer who best suits the above 3 factors also has reasonable fees, then there’s a good bet you’ll ultimately be happy with his services.