5. 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

A retainer agreement may also include other details like:

  • how you will communicate with each other
  • if and how you are charged for emails and telephone calls
  • when 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.


Criminal lawyers and paralegals usually charge a block fee based on how complicated the case is, the number of court appearances, and the number of days a will likely take. If you're not sure what you want to do, you can ask about hourly rates or unbundled services.

Lawyers and paralegals may also have other people helping them who a different rate. For example, they may get another lawyer, paralegal, or law clerk to help with your case.

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

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 deposit before they agree to start work on a case. This is sometimes also 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 legal aid certificate 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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