Let's make sense of
legal fees

Play Video


Lawyers charge for their services in a lot of different ways depending on the type of case you have.

For example, criminal defence cases are often charged on a “block fee” (i.e. flat fee basis) if the case can be resolved without a trial. A flat fee is also common when drafting a simple will.

On the other hand, some cases are charged on a contingency fee basis.

Family law cases are typically charged at an hourly rate and your lawyer will send you a bill for the number of hours that he or she worked on your case. It is often difficult to know how many hours your lawyer will actually work on your case, or how long the case will continue, because that depends on whether you and your spouse can agree about major issues, and it also depends on the availability of Judges and Court dates at your local courthouse.

Civil litigation and commercial litigation cases are almost always charged at an hourly rate.

How do trust accounts work?

You might be wondering how lawyers and their clients deal with the mystery and uncertainty about the total cost of a case. That’s why lawyers use something called a “Trust Account”. A trust account is a bank account where your lawyer will hold your money, and you can ask for it back at any time. As your lawyer incurs expenses, and provides services to you, he or she will send you a bill from time to time. If you already have money in your trust account, then that money will be used to pay your legal bill. The money in your trust account is transferred directly to your lawyer’s General Account, and you are not required to do anything during that transaction. When you first hire your lawyer, he or she will usually ask you to pay something called a “Retainer Fee”, and that money will go straight into the trust account.

What are disbursements?

Another type of legal fee are what lawyers call “disbursements”. A disbursement is not actually a fee at all, because disbursements are expenses that your lawyer pays when he or she is representing you. Disbursements come from things like Court fees, photocopying expenses, courier fees, hiring an expert witness to testify in Court, and many other things. Your lawyer must pay for these expenses out of his or her own pocket, and then your lawyer will require you to reimburse him or her for those expenses. Again, every case is different, and your lawyer may be able to tell you what your disbursements will be up-front, but that’s not always possible.

What to know about "no-win / no-fee" arrangements.

This type of fee arrangement is called a “Contingency Fee”, where the lawyer receives a percentage of money that they win for you. Many people prefer to pay their lawyer in this way because it is a more affordable option. However, it’s very important to be careful about which law firm you choose to represent you when a contingency fee is offered. Depending on who you choose, paying a lawyer in this way can have negative consequences for your case, so we made a video explaining some things to be aware of.

The type of case determines whether or not a contingency fee will apply. As a general rule, the vast majority of cases will not be charged in this way.

KPA may represent you on a contingency fee basis in one of the following types of cases:

  1. If you are making a personal injury claim in relation to a motor vehicle accident or slip & fall;
  2. If you have been terminated from your job but you have not been paid what you are legally owed; or
  3. You are making a civil claim as a survivor of sexual assault or sexual abuse.

It’s important to keep in mind that even if your case involves one of the above situations, there are additional requirements: 

  1. You must have a reasonable likelihood of winning your case;
  2. The size of the claim is large enough to justify the time and expense involved in litigating the case; and
  3. The Defendant must be able to afford to pay any potential settlement or judgment. This is usually not a problem when the Defendant is insured by an insurance company.

Can I get legal aid?

We have another page on our website about legal aid in Ontario. Click here for learn more about that.