How do I find a lawyer or paralegal to help me with my landlord?

5. Sign your retainer agreement and pay a deposit

When you hire a lawyer they usually ask you to sign a “retainer agreement”. This is a written document that says what you're hiring the lawyer or paralegal to do and how you will be charged for their services.

You can hire a lawyer to handle your whole problem. Or, if you only want help for part of your case, you can hire a lawyer who offers “unbundled” or “limited scope” 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.


Lawyers usually charge an hourly rate. They might also have other people working with them who charge at a different rate. For example, the lawyer may ask another lawyer, paralegal, or a law clerk to help with your case.

The retainer agreement should include an estimate of the cost. It should also say if there are set fees for specific tasks, like a half-day or daily rate for going to a hearing.

Lawyers usually also charge for other expenses, such as photocopies, filing fees, and business name searches. These are called disbursements. You should check what the retainer agreement says about these types of fees.

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 usually ask for a deposit before they agree to start work on a case. This is sometimes called a retainer fee, or just a retainer.

If your lawyer asks for a retainer fee, you might want to ask:

  • how much work the deposit is expected to cover
  • if you can arrange a payment plan if you're not able to pay all of the deposit at once

Be sure to get a receipt to show the amount that you've paid. If the total cost of your legal work is less than the retainer, you should get the unused portion back.

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