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Legal Fees

Let’s play Jeopardy: I’ll take ‘Expert in Ottawa’ for $300

When I practised law in Mississauga, Ont., our fees were cheap compared to the Toronto firms, and kind of expensive compared to firms in places like Guelph, Belleville and Kingston. I occasionally wondered whether my clients might prefer to deal with firms in smaller cities at lower rates. Then I would reassure myself that doing so would be terribly inconvenient for them and that they would rather pay more to deal with me.

Now I am not so sure.

I recently had the experience of helping someone look for a lawyer near where I now live in the country. The potential client thought that it was important to find someone local. I had difficulty locating suitable counsel in our area. I discussed this with a senior lawyer in Toronto who said to me, “Murray, wise up. Everything is being done remotely. Forget about hiring someone local and just find the best counsel that you can.”

So, I turned to a great lawyer in Ottawa who I knew to have the expertise and service mentality that I needed and hired her firm at rates which are substantially less than those which would have been charged in Toronto or Mississauga.

During the pandemic we all learned that just about everything can be done remotely. There isn’t much difference between Zooming or Teaming from five kilometres away or three hundred kilometres away, and if Zooming from a distance is going to save you $300 an hour, why wouldn’t you do it?

Now of course there is the myth that big-city lawyers cling to that you can only be smart and capable if you live in the big city. But seriously. Do people actually believe that?

This got me thinking. If I were still practising in the Greater Toronto Area, how would I justify to my clients that they should pay me double what they would have to pay someone with similar skills in Ottawa, Windsor, or London?

I could always fall back on the very credible pitch that I am just so much better than anyone that they could find in any other firm in the province. I might even believe it. Some of the clients might also. But would most of them?

So here is what I am thinking:

If I were practising law in a firm outside the GTA, I would be touting my technology and spreading the message far and wide that it is just dumb to pay Toronto lawyers to do work that can be done equally well by lawyers working in cities where you do not have to pay $70 a year to have a single square foot of space on which to put your wastepaper basket.

And if I were back practising in the GTA? I would be thinking long and hard about how I am going to justify charging double what firms outside the GTA are charging for similar services when clients can now easily deal with those firms — especially when most of my client, court and third-party interactions would be remote.

But I’m just a retired guy living in a forest who is happy that back in the day nobody had to think about this stuff.

This article was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily (www.thelawyersdaily.ca), part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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