Times are changing and the reality is when we want to know how to do something we Google it! So when it comes to seeking legal advice and finding a solution to your legal problems you may ask yourself, why wouldn’t I Google it? You are thinking it would be a lot cheaper than retaining a lawyer. Unfortunately in the end this may not be the result. We would like to remind you of the age old saying, “Sometimes you get what you pay for”.
So when our clients pose to us the question of can I just do it myself, will it be legal, the answer is factually “it depends”.
Life has not become simpler over time, but much more complex and this applies to the law as well. Our government is forever amending and passing new laws, bills, and regulations that affect our everyday lives. Our courts are rendering decisions on a daily basis that can change the outcome of many situations. You need to ask yourself if you feel like a Google search will give you all of the information you need to represent yourself. And without legal training, how could you know what you are missing?
For comparison sake, when I encounter a computer problem, I take great comfort in the fact that I have an excellent computer technology expert who I can call to help solve my problem. I don’t have the interest, or the time, to go online and educate myself about computers to try to find a fix for my latest glitch, that may or may not work.
So as a legal professional it always concerns me when someone tells me that they drafted their own Separation Agreement, or their own Will. Some of the most complicated estates I have ever had to probate are where a person has died with a Do-it-Yourself Will Kit and they did not have the expertise to know what they needed to say to properly carry out their wishes.
I know that people perceive legal services to be expensive. But the reality is that if you try to do your own legal work and you make a mistake because you were not aware of the intricacies of the law in the area in which you are working, you are likely going to have to pay a lawyer to fix the mistake, which will cost a lot more than if you just hired them to do what you needed in the first place. Keep in mind that if a lawyer does the work for you and we make a mistake we have liability insurance, so our insurer will pay the losses you suffer. If you have been your own lawyer you eat the cost of your mistakes.
If I had to make you a short list of the things you technically could do without a lawyer but we would not recommend you do, they would be:
- Estate Planning, drafting Wills and Powers of Attorney especially. If your Will isn’t prepared correctly your estate could spend thousands in legal fees and taxes trying to clean up the mess;
- Business Law- Incorporation and Small Business Start-up. Again, lots of times we see CRA as the big winner here. The average person doesn’t know the loopholes to avoid taxation;
- Family Law – Divorce/Separation. The problem we see here is the fact that a lot of the information people have from the media is Americanized. Therefore people are using American law as the basis for settlements in Canada when the Canadian law that actually governs is completely different;
- Real Estate Law – Real Estate Contracts. If you sign an Agreement of Purchase and Sale you are bound from the moment you sign it to purchase the property, regardless of what you find. So if you do a water test and discover the water is high in arsenic, you are deemed to be satisfied unless you knew enough to include a clean water test as a condition in the Agreement;
- Employment Law – Review of Severance Package or Employment Contracts. Even lawyers who don’t work in this area frequently have to research caselaw to advise you on whether your settlement is reasonable in a severance package.
Most of these areas of law can be handled by a general practice law firm such as ours. There would be instances where your particular matter may require a lawyer with specialized expertise in one of these fields but rest assured as a general practitioner I am under an ethical obligation to advise you if something is out of my depth.
So the next time you are faced with a legal issue that requires the services of a lawyer and you are thinking you can probably just take care of it on your own, remind yourself that you are taking a big risk. It may work out for you. But if it does not, you will spend more in legal fees trying to fix your mistake than if you hired a lawyer to help you in the first place.