Legal Fees that Work For You.
At Shaffie Law, we understand that facing criminal charges can be an exhausting ordeal. At the beginning of every case our clients feel anxious about the future, misunderstood or simply stripped of their voice.
It's our goal to make our clients feel empowered. That's why we offer fair, flexible, transparent pricing that is tailored to the specific circumstances of each client and each case. This lets our clients get back to what matters most.
Unlike most law firms, our website lays out the average cost associated with standard criminal defence legal services. These fees are explained in detail at an initial consultation, which we offer on a complementary basis by appointment.
Further below, we describe how legal fees work, as well as the basic structure of most criminal defence cases.
What is a Retainer?
Lawyer-client relationships are based on a retainer agreement. Although these agreements can be oral, our firm typically issues a written agreement which our clients can keep, review and ask questions about before signing. These are reviewed at an initial consultation, or after a client has agreed to hire our firm.
A retainer agreement spells out the specific legal services which are to be provided to the client and the fees associated with them. They also identify some of the rights and responsibilities of both the lawyer and the client - for example, how and when to contact the lawyer; whether they can expect court appearances to be taken care of for them; and the conditions under which either party may terminate the relationship.
Block Fees vs. Hourly Retainers.
Criminal lawyers' retainers are usually based on a block fee, an hourly retainer, or some combination of the two.
Put simply, a block fee is a set amount, agreed upon by the parties, in exchange for taking the client's case to a specific point in the criminal process. As long as the services are contained within that part of the case and within the list of services in the retainer, the client can feel free to communicate with their lawyer without fear of incurring additional costs.
Hourly retainers, on the other hand, are assessed by 6-minute increments. Lawyers keep track of each 6-minute "unit" of time they spend on a case and invoice their clients periodically. This often includes any time spent travelling (to court, for example), or talking about the case with the client or other necessary parties.
In all cases, when a client hires a criminal lawyer in Toronto, the moneys paid are held in a trust account. These funds are only ever transferred to the lawyer once a set of legal services has been completed.
Why We Prefer Block Fees.
Although we offer hourly retainers for more limited legal engagements (think letter-writing, or drafting an opinion), it has been our experience that block fee retainers offer the most comfort to our clients, and the greatest flexibility in mounting an effective defence.
At Shaffie Law, we value transparency and open lines of communication with our clients. We want to them to understand each important step in their case, and to enter into a discussion with them about the best way forward.
How We Decide on Block Fees.
Two guiding principles inform our block fee retainers: the case, including its seriousness and complexity, and the client.
As part of our complementary initial consultation, we attempt to arrive at an understanding of our clients' unique backgrounds and expectations. Some are open to pleading to a lesser offence if certain conditions are met (for example, no criminal record or the preservation of their immigration status); others may insist on nothing short of an acquittal; still others have complex mental health or substance abuse issues that will require a sensitive approach combined with counselling, compiling additional medical evidence, or all three.
Combined with the type and seriousness of the charge, an experienced criminal defence lawyer knows, on average, how much time and resources a matter will take, including the specific steps that will be required to arrive at the intended result.
Understanding the Two Phases of a Criminal Case
At Shaffie Law, we approach criminal cases in two distinct phases: a pre-trial phase, where every criminal case begins, and a trial phase, where only unresolved criminal cases wind up.
As a general rule, wherever possible our defence litigation strategies are designed to terminate our clients' cases in the first of these two phases: the pre-trial phase.
a. Pre-Trial Phase Criminal Defence Retainers
The pre-trial phase of a criminal prosecution starts with your first appearance in court. This could be at a bail hearing - if the police have held you for one - or at a "first appearance," as set out in your Summons, Appearance Notice, or Promise to Appear.
Most pre-trial phases of a criminal case last from 3-6 months. That time can be shorter for very simple cases, and much longer for extremely serious or complicated matters.
During this time, your criminal defence lawyer is executing some critical legal work. We call these "core pre-trial legal services," and they include:
Obtaining and reviewing the disclosure or evidence in your case;
Determining what items of disclosure are missing in the evidence, and taking the appropriate steps to obtain them;
Providing an assessment of the case to the client, in order to obtain instructions, feedback, and to devise the most effective defence strategy;
Attending court periodically, in order to safeguard the court "record" and to move the case forward;
Negotiating with prosecutors, often multiple times and in writing, in order to achieve the desired result;
Where desirable or necessary, meeting with a prosecutor and a Judge at a "judicial pre-trial conference," in order to obtain judicial feedback or prepare for trial;
Conducting legal research that is applicable to the case;
Keeping the client informed of important developments; and
Advising the client on what to do in order to maximize their chances of success.
These "core pre-trial legal services" all occur before a trial date is set. During this time, the complexion of a criminal case - its strengths and weaknesses - becomes clear, as does the attitude and motivation of the prosecutor on the other side.
Equipped with this information, the goal of the pre-trial phase of a defence lawyer's work is to obtain the best possible result without proceeding to trial. In some cases, this means a withdrawal of the charges; in others, it could mean a peace bond or participation in a diversion program; in others still, it could mean arriving at a "plea deal" or resolution, where serious charges are reduced, or a sentence is significantly lowered with the agreement of the prosecution.
At all times the client remains informed and in control. Shaffie Law prides itself on a style of defence advocacy that empowers clients with information and invites them to make the major decisions.
At the end of the pre-trial phase of the case, the client is informed of the best outcome in their case, advised on the strengths and weaknesses in the evidence, and invited to instruct us on how they wish to proceed.
The majority of our block fee retainers are designed with these core pre-trial legal services in mind. The reason for this is simple: if charges are dropped before scheduling a trial, our clients don't pay for trial-related services they didn't need. We think that's just fair.
b. Trial Phase Criminal Defence Retainers
If a criminal case does not resolve at its pre-trial phase, they are then scheduled for a trial or preliminary inquiry. For simplicity's sake, we will focus on the trial in this section of our discussion.
Simply put, a trial is the legal venue where the prosecution attempts to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. This is usually done by calling live witnesses, including police officers, complainants or "victims", lay people, and sometimes experts.
If a client wishes to proceed to trial in a criminal case, a separate block fee trial retainer is required. The equation becomes slightly more complex, however, because trials are not simply about review, discussion and putting a client's best foot forward: it's about pure litigation.
As with our pre-trial retainers, we work closely with our clients to arrive at a fair, flexible retainer that takes into account their financial means and the specific outcomes they hope to achieve.
Trial retainers are typically based on widely variable factors, including:
The anticipated length of the trial;
The amount and complexity of the evidence that needs to be studied in advance;
The number and type of witnesses that need to be prepared by the defence; and
The number and type of pre-trial or trial motions a client instructs their lawyer to bring. These can include anything from applications to suppress evidence (for example, a confession); challenge a search warrant, wiretap, or DNA evidence; argue a constitutional violation; or allege other police or prosecutorial misconduct justifying relief.
As can be expected, trial retainers are typically more costly than their pre-trial counterparts.
Frequently Asked Questions about Legal Fees
2201 Finch West
Brampton & Mississauga
About Shayan Shaffie
Shayan is a graduate of the University of Toronto law school. He holds a Specialist B.A. with High Distinction in English, also from the University of Toronto. Apart from his native English, he speaks fluent Farsi, French and is conversant in Spanish.
Shayan was called to the Ontario Bar in 2011. His articles were completed at the Hamilton Crown Attorney's Office, where he also served as Crown counsel prior to establishing Shaffie Law. He has practised criminal law exclusively since his call.
Outside court, Shayan enjoys photography, rock climbing, and travel. Shayan is a former opera singer.