The Cost of Being your Own Lawyer

Some Blog topics come up over and over again on our site.  It’s not because we’ve run out of ideas – believe me WE have ideas.  It’s because the issue keeps coming up over and over again.

Recently, we helped a client with a lawsuit involving a contract they drafted without a lawyer’s input.    We won.  The client was happy.

The client then returned with a new lawsuit involving another contract they drafted without a lawyer’s input.  This contract was drafted during the timing of the first lawsuit.  The client knew better.

The client knew that they paid us approximately $4,000.00 to deal with the litigation and they knew we would have charged $ 750.00 to review their contract.   You don’t need to be a math major to recognize litigation costs a lot more than drafting work.

A different client recently came to our firm, finally giving up trying to run their own Small Claims Court collection files.  They realized that sitting around, waiting to be heard by a Judge was taking away from their ability to conduct their business.  No kidding.  If you’re not a paralegal or lawyer, you have better things to do with your time than sit around waiting for Court.

In this day and age where many business owners are willing to spend money on expensive cars and luxurious office furniture, maybe it’s time to take a step back and realize that you can afford a lawyer if you choose to do so.  It’s cheaper in the long run.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

iandriessen@andriessen.ca

Always Forward, Never Straight

The title of today’s Blog is attributed to many people, so I’m not sure who to actually credit for it.  I personally learned of it recently when Lance Armstrong’s wedu.team adopted it as one of their inspiring quotes.   As applicable as the quote is to endurance sports, it’s also applicable to business.

Now I know this sounds philosophical, but stick with me for a paragraph or two longer and we’ll get back on “legal” footing.  A business that is growing will not always choose to stick to the same plan and just move forward, rather, it will explore a side issue that might take it in a different, but still forward direction.

As long as your business is always moving forward, you’re going in the right direction.  This is not to say, don’t look back.  The adage if we don’t learn from our mistakes, we’re bound to repeat them, applies even more so in business than it does in history.

When it comes to the legal aspects of your business, it’s important you check in regularly with your lawyer to ensure that forward path you are on is still compliant with the law.  In our firm, we do annual checkups with our clients – these are phone calls where our clients update us on how the past year was and their plans for the next.  This allows us to let them know of changes in the law that might impact them and help them keep moving forward.

Does your lawyer check in with you annually?  Why not?

Back to moving forward !

Inga B. Andriessen JD

iandriessen@andriessen.ca

 

Always Read the Terms of your Contract

When you are running a business and you require the services of another company, most likely that company will have you enter into a contract with them.  Before you sign that contract, always read the terms and make sure you understand them.  If you don’t – call us, and let our firm have a look at the contract for you.

Some contracts for services have a semi-automatic renewal term.  What does this mean?  This means if you do not terminate the contract prior to the expiration of the initial term, the contract will then renew for an additional term, usually the same amount of time as the original term.

If you do not provide proper notice under the terms, you can be on the hook for the full amount of the term of the contract if you want to terminate it.

In 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada considered the issue of semi-automatic renewal provisions in contracts, and the Court found that if the term is not ambiguous, the contract will renew in accordance with the terms unless proper notice under the terms is provided.

So, if the value of the term of the Contract is $2,000.00 and you fail to give proper notice or notice at all, and you still wish to terminate that contract, you are obligated to pay that service provider $2,000.00, whether or not you continue with the services under the contract or not.

Always read the fine print of your contracts.  Diarize when your contracts end, and more importantly, diarize the earliest date which you must provide notice to terminate your contract(s) so that you do not end up paying more than you have to.

Murray Brown, Paralegal

mbrown@andriessen.ca

The Good Lawyer – Part 1

Nowadays you can’t drive a block or two without seeing a sign for a law firm. They are (what seems like) in every strip mall in the GTA. We are bombarded with lawyers faces splashed on billboards and transit buses on our morning commutes.

With the legal profession as heavily saturated as it is, it can make picking the right lawyer particularly challenging. Whether you are looking for a lawyer or already have one (and aren’t sure they are doing the job) there are definite qualities you should look for to ensure your legal professional can deliver what you need.

This blog will be a five-part series where each post will explore one quality important in being a great lawyer. Today’s showcased quality is … COMMUNICATION.

Communication, as you may already assume, is a crucial part of being a lawyer. While you may have seen from watching Suits, the Good Wife, Law and Order, or any other law-centered tv show, being able to articulate yourself clearly and effectively is important in a courtroom. What people often forget is that lawyers need to be equally as convincing and clear in their written submissions to the court. What would surprise (and perhaps shock) a lot of people is how many poorly written and edited briefs make it before judges. Trust us, judges find it hard to take you or your case seriously when they are struggling to make sense of your written materials.

So, while you may have met with a lawyer and hired them because they seemed articulate and charismatic in your initial meeting, you need to ensure that they are equally as skilled in drafting the written components of your case. You should demand nothing less from any legal professional you hire to represent you.

We believe first impressions are everything! Whether it be in the form of verbal and written submissions to the court, or through telephone calls and correspondence with opposing counsel – you want a lawyer that can clearly communicate your case.

Our goal (and what should be the goal of any good lawyer) is to always keep our client in the loop regarding anything and everything written or said on their behalf. We send our draft materials to our clients for final approval, not only so they can see the quality of our work product, but also so that they can offer their input. This generally results in no unforeseen surprises come court day – at least on our end!

Stay tuned for quality number two in weeks to come… (suspenseful, we know).

Robin K. Mann, Associate Lawyer

rmann@andriessen.ca

You can run, but chances are you can’t hide from us!

As the law clerk in the office, one of my responsibilities is to conduct searches on individuals and corporations.  To be honest, it may be one of my favorite things to do.  The harder it is to find someone, the more exciting it is for me.

Outside of the Google and social media searches, our office is equipped with a number of programs that we can use for searches, such as corporate searches, property searches, driver’s licence searches, Personal Property Security Act (PPSA) searches – and the list goes on.

Just recently I had to locate the directors of a corporation, who had used the corporate head office as their address for service, and the corporation was no longer located at that address.  I successfully located the director by using our programs and doing a lot of digging around.

Usually, with a name and last known address, we would start with a driver’s licence search.  However, in this case, all I had was a name and we all know names can be common.  I started first with a PPSA search.  If they were an officer of the company, chances are they leased office equipment and perhaps guaranteed an equipment lease.  I got lucky and obtained the date of birth.  Now I could proceed with the driver’s licence search to confirm the current address.  I was also able to conduct a property search and confirm they owned property that our client could secure a Judgment against.

After Judgment, we have the ability to conduct credit searches in an attempt to locate any active bank accounts or find an employer that we can garnish wages from.

When someone tries so hard to evade service of documents, or just doesn’t want to be found, I am filled with so much happiness when I can successfully locate them.  Does that make me evil, or good at my job?

Christine Allan, Law Clerk

callan@staging.andriessen.ca

Taking Client Privacy Seriously

Another day, another data breach by hackers targeting a large company – that’s how it feels anyway, am I right?    No one wants the hassle of dealing with canceling credit cards and trying to remember which passwords were shared with other sites, but these days it is approaching normal.

What also seems to be “normal” these days is many law firms “accidentally” not protecting their Client’s Privacy because the lawyers are not aware the software they are using exposes their clients to breaches of Privacy.

As lawyers, anything our clients tell us is confidential and we cannot be forced to give up that information (except in very limited circumstances, such as a threat of immediate harm).  This is a good thing as it lets our clients tell us the truth and we can advise on that.

In this data age, most firms communicate with their clients via email and most firms back up those emails.  Where are the servers located?  If they are not in Canada, then those servers could be subject to inspection by the Government of the country in which they are located.  For e.g. in the USA, data is scanned under the Patriot’s Act.  This means if your lawyer backs up their data to a USA server, your private information could be reviewed by the NSA.  Imagine if you’re accused of a crime you are adamant you didn’t commit, but your lawyer has backed up all of that data to a USA cloud.  Enjoy your next border crossing.

Many sole practitioners think Dropbox is a fantastic way to store client files so they are accessible on their phones/laptops, etc.    Dropbox has servers located in the USA.  You’ve just exposed all of your client info to the USA government.

Perhaps even more shocking is the latest Law Firm Accounting Cloud Product, CLIO, is hosted in the USA.  Now, provided you don’t have detailed dockets setting out what your client conversations entailed, you probably didn’t violate lawyer/client confidentiality, but maybe you did.  You certainly exposed your client’s contact information to the USA government as well as the fact they have retained a lawyer.

Most lawyers are trained as lawyers, they’re not trained as IT experts and may not even realize that they are exposing their client’s confidential information to other parties.  That’s not a good enough answer in this day and age.

Our firm takes client information seriously and protects that information on Canadian based servers only.  Our staff is not allowed to cross the border with Law Firm Email on their laptops and mobile devices, thereby ensuring border guards do not read confidential information.    Ask your lawyer if they take your privacy as seriously: we hope the answer is yes.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s …. The City of Toronto’s Solicitor

Most Torontonians must have heard by now of Premier Doug Ford’s plan to reduce the members of Toronto’s city council by almost half – and if you haven’t heard, consider changing your news outlet. Over a dozen councilors, in support of Mr. Ford’s Better Local Government Act, advise that this plan will result in a more efficient city council. Opponents of the plan argue that the proposed amendment of city council seats from 47 to 25 erodes the democratic process.

So who does the city council turn to during this crisis? The defender of constitutional rights! The protector of local democracy! … The city solicitor, of course! The city council has brought a motion asking the city solicitor to “consider the validity and constitutionality” of the province’s move and to investigate “its potential violation of the rights of the citizens of Toronto to fair and effective representation.” Toronto’s mayor, John Tory, has called for a binding referendum or a change to the Municipal Elections Act so that this question can be put directly on this year’s ballot. They want you, the citizen, to decide.

The province has broad legislative powers when it comes to matters affecting the city of Toronto, and we may see this plan carried out before a proper inquiry is complete. But have no fear citizen, the city council is still fighting the good fight with the help of their lawyers.

While we are certain that the city’s lawyers will be working diligently to counter this reform, it is imperative for you, dear citizen, to keep your ears to the ground and participate (should the opportunity arise) in this important decision!

Robin K. Mann, J.D.

rmann@staging.andriessen.ca

Don’t Get Legal Advice from Facebook

In the day and age of social media, there are a lot of keyboard lawyers out there who think they are knowledgeable in the law, when they’re really not.

Looking at the comments on Facebook and other social media platforms really makes me cringe.  What’s worse is people actually rely on these posts to make decisions on legal issues without consulting an actual legal professional.

For example, a member of a community Facebook group I am a member of was complaining about their neighbour over a minor dispute.  Someone suggested suing in Small Claims Court in the comments.  Someone then posted that there was a minimum amount you had to sue.  I made the comment that there was no minimum, and that poster challenged me.  Even after letting them know I am a paralegal specializing in Small Claims Court litigation, I was still challenged by someone who thought they were right.  They were wrong.

I also had a call with someone who said they wanted to sue someone for money they were owed.  They claimed they had knowledge of the law because they got information on Facebook.  After they ranted for over two minutes about what they thought they knew, I had let them know that everything they said was wrong, and if they proceeded based upon what they believed to be correct, they would be very disappointed in the result.

There are so many that can go wrong with taking the advice of a keyboard lawyer.  Some of those problems are (but not limited to) paying costs, delays in your matter or it being dismissed and at the end of it, you having to hire a lawyer or paralegal to clean up your mistakes simply because you wanted to take advice from someone on Facebook, rather than hiring the appropriate person for the job.

If you need legal advice, call a lawyer or a paralegal.  Please do not rely upon social media to get your legal advice.  It can cause you time and money if you do.

Murray Brown, Licensed Paralegal

mbrown@staging.andriessen.ca

We don’t need no stinkin’ lawyers to incorporate (oops, we do) !

“Why do I need to use a lawyer to incorporate?  I can press a button online.  OK, so I shouldn’t use “Dr. Google” but come on, lawyers are just a scam to take money from us.  This is easy stuff. ”

I wish the above comments were hypothetical, but they are not.  Lawyers in our firm have had conversations like this for years.  So.  Why should you use a lawyer to incorporate?

That’s a very good question.   I’ll tell you why.  Because they know stuff.

Even as someone who works closely with lawyers, I do not know all the ins and outs of the Ontario Business Corporations Act, and chances are that you don’t either, and there is more to consider like the Income Tax Act.  Yes, there is the information highway, and yes you can get very basic precedents of almost anything; but is it suited to what it is that you want to do with your business?

For example, does your share structure allow you to bring on investors down the road if you were thinking of expanding and allowing for investors?  Do you have the right classes of shares when you want to have family members be shareholders?  No?  Well, now you have to spend money to get your “basic” Corporation amended.  Why not just deal with the professionals at the outset to avoid that extra step and cost?

When you come to our offices and discuss your corporate planning, we bring to your attention these little things to think about.  And you know what else we do, we talk about:

  1. the implications of having employees and the importance of agreements and handbooks;
  2. discuss Trademarks and Intellectual Property;
  3. refer you to an accountant who can assist you with your tax planning needs; and
  4. discuss Estate Planning aspect of owning shares in the company.

To me, that sounds like an all around service.  Oh wait, that’s what we are, a full serviced business law firm.  We even take it one step further when you incorporate with our office, we remind you when it’s time to do your Annual Resolutions so that you don’t forget.

If you think that you have a great business plan, get out to see those professionals now before you end up being out of pocket for something that you should have just done, to begin with.  Trust me.

Christine Allan, Law Clerk

callan@staging.andriessen.ca

 

Read it before you sign it!

Recently we’ve had quite a few files where one of the parties to the law suit claims to not have read a document before they signed it.  The document, of course, had major consequences to them and they were now learning the price they were going to have to pay.

Some of the most frustrating excuses (and my responses to them) include:

  1. Lawyers are too expensive.  Really? Because it would have been $ 500.00 to give you an opinion on it, but now you’re going to spend $ 50,000.00 to litigate this.
  2. I trusted my significant other to take care of it for me.  Really?  Because no significant other has ever taken advantage of another?  I guess that is why family law lawyers are not busy …. oh wait, they’re VERY busy.
  3. I don’t read English well enough and I was too embarrassed to admit it.  Really?There is no shame in learning a new language, but there is shame in burdening yourself with debt due to embarrassment.
  4. I didn’t have time to have the contract filled in, so I signed a blank one and told the salesperson to fill it in according to our discussions.  Really?  You think that signing a blank form is a great idea?  Would you sign a blank cheque? (if you would, watch the spelling on my last name, it’s tricky <G>).

Overall, I’m seeing a trend of more people believing that they’re not responsible for themselves and their actions.  If you’re going to sign a document, you’re responsible for it.  If you don’t want to take the time to understand it, then don’t sign it.

Oh, and if you do sign something you don’t understand and something goes wrong and I end up suing you on behalf of the other party to the contract, please do not whine to me about how this is “not your fault”.  It is.  Look in the mirror.  You did this to yourself when you signed something you didn’t understand.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

iandriessen@staging.andriessen.ca