The going rate

After a few years’ hiatus, the annual Canadian Lawyer Legal Fees Survey is back and bigger than ever. More than 300 lawyers and firms responded to our online survey, in which we asked about the going rate for 26 different legal matters.


Followers of our previous surveys will also note that this year we’ve added immigration and intellectual property matters to our list of usual suspects. Despite low response rates over the last couple of years, we realize the importance of this information — especially for those in small firms and are pleased to be able to once again provide it to readers.

“It is very important for sole and small-firm practitioners to get this information as I seldom know what the going rate is,” says one respondent from a small firm in Ontario. “Lawyers do not seem to discuss what they charge.”
Good news then that 314 respondents answered a host of questions about the legal fees they charge. Those who filled out our easy, online survey could provide us with an average fee, a minimum fee, or a maximum fee — in most cases respondents provided all three.

The fees listed in each chart represent average amounts. For example, the minimum fee of a bail hearing is the average minimum fee charged by respondents and doesn’t necessarily represent the lowest amount recorded. As well, while the survey pool had 314 responses, not all respondents indicated the province or the size of firm in which they practise. Those responses were included in our national fee ranges chart, but weren’t included in the regional breakout charts.

Following in the tradition of previous surveys, almost 70 per cent of responses came from sole practitioners or small-firm lawyers. Lawyers in shops of five to 25 made up 27 per cent, while those in firms of 26-plus lawyers made up just five per cent.

Regionally, Ontario lawyers accounted for 70 per cent of responses, British Columbia had 19 per cent, and Alberta made up almost 11 per cent. While we had responses from across Canada, there wasn’t enough meaningful data to do regional breakout charts for other areas. In practice areas where there was no response, those too have been excised from the regional breakouts.

In addition to asking about fees charged in various legal matters, we asked respondents to comment on areas of law that are no longer profitable and being phased out. It goes without saying that estate work, like preparing a simple will (for a national average of $340) or power of attorney (average $110) acts as a loss leader for small firms. They don’t make a firm money but they create client contact and get them in the door for other legal services.

In the past, these additional services could have been real estate, but many respondents to this year’s survey say they are phasing out residential real estate work. “It is hard to raise legal fees for real estate when we are constantly acting as collectors for third parties who charge high fees, lenders, software providers, government registrations and search costs, taxes, title insurance,” says one Ontario lawyer. “These fees have increased exponentially but the lawyer’s fee doesn’t keep up.”  Another says: “In real estate, we are constantly asked for quotes and the realtors pressure us down, which is annoying. I turn away people if they do not want to pay the set fee.”

No doubt real estate fees are a bone of contention among our respondents, as close to one-third indicated that they do work in this area.

Legal aid is another area that can’t get any love from lawyers. Sure, it’s never been glamorous, high-paying work, but many lawyers are operating at a loss by taking on legal aid cases — and they can no longer afford to. “The legal aid rate is abominably low,” says one small-firm lawyer. “I was billed out as an articling student five years ago at a higher rate than legal aid pays me now. It is disheartening, drives lawyers away from important public-interest work, and leaves clients with less prepared, less qualified lawyers. It’s a scandal that it is allowed to continue.”

Another notes: “Family law is very difficult — huge retainers are required to remain profitable as they are extremely labour-intensive files, and very few people could ever afford to maintain their minimum retainer. Legal aid rates and maximum hours are laughable considering the amount of wasted time spent in court.”

The overarching theme of this year’s responses is that times are tough for the small-firm lawyer. In fact, our chart of hourly fees charged has remained virtually unchanged when compared to results from several years ago. “Fees have not kept pace with increasing costs,” says one respondent. “My mechanic charges $95 an hour. Relative to what I charge, that is far higher than it was 20 years ago.”


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