Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a retainer fee?

    A retainer is an amount of money you may have to pay to a lawyer up front, before they will do any work on your file.

    Lawyers often ask for retainers because if they don’t, they risk not being paid by their clients after they have already done the work they were hired to do. There are also many different fees that go along with filing court documents and starting court proceedings, and if a lawyer does not ask for money up front, they would have to pay these costs out of their own pocket, and risk losing that money if the client does not pay later on.

    Retainer fees are paid into a trust account at the lawyer’s law firm and can only be accessed by the lawyer to cover expenses as they arise. The rest of the retainer will be paid out to the lawyer once work on the file is complete, or refunded to the client if there is more money in the trust account than the lawyer’s fee for their services. If the case is a complicated one that has extra expenses or requires extra work, the lawyer may also ask the client to add more money to the retainer from time to time.

  • What are unbundled services?

    Some lawyers provide short-term or individual legal services to clients for a smaller fee, rather than doing all the work on the client’s case. This is called unbundling. For example, a lawyer may just draft a document for a client but not file it for them, or they may help a client with prepare for a court appearance, but not actually show up in court to argue on the client’s behalf. Unbundling is a good way for clients to save money if they feel they can handle certain parts of their case themselves.

    Not all lawyers provide these services, so it is important to ask a lawyer if they offer unbundled services when you consult them about your case.

  • Where can I file a complaint about the conduct of a lawyer?

    If you are concerned about something a lawyer has done (or not done), you should contact the Complaints Resolution Department of the Law Society of Manitoba. Before sending them a formal complaint, consider phoning them first. They may be able to help you work things out. The Complaints Resolution Department can be reached at (204) 942-5571, or toll-free at 1-855-942-5571.

    Next Steps:

    If you want to go ahead with a formal complaint, you must fill out a Complaint Help Form.

    You can find a copy of the form on the Law Society’s website

    You can also call the Law Society to ask for a printed copy of the form.

    When filling out the form, be sure to include:

      • Your name, address and telephone number;
      • The name, law firm name, and address of the lawyer you are complaining about;
      • information about your complaint; and
      • Copies (not originals) of any other letters or documents which support your claim.

    Don’t forget to sign the form.

    Send the completed, signed form and any additional documents to:

    By Mail:

    The Law Society of Manitoba

    Complaints Resolution Department Paralegal

    200 – 260 St. Mary Ave.

    Winnipeg, Manitoba R3C 0M6

    By Fax:


    Attention: Complaints Resolution

    By E-mail:

    You may scan all the documents and send them by email to

  • What if the Law Society of Manitoba refuses to investigate my complaint?

    There is an appeal available to the Complaints Commissioner, a non-lawyer who is independent of the Law Society of Manitoba. The Complaints Commissioner can review the decision.

    You must appeal within 60 days.

    The Complaints Review Commissioner can:

      • Dismiss the complaint (which ends the matter), or
      • Direct the Law Society to investigate, if they have not, or
      • Refer the matter to the Complaints Investigation Committee, if the Law Society has investigated.

    To request a review by the Complaints Review Commissioner, email the Commissioner at or write to:

    Complaints Review Commissioner

    P.O. Box 2234

    Winnipeg, MB R3C 3R5

  • If I do not qualify for Legal Aid, what will a private lawyer cost me?

    Legal fees are difficult to estimate. Lawyers often charge by the amount of time spent on a case.

    Many lawyers charge an hourly rate, which may depend on the experience of the individual lawyer. There is no standard rate for all lawyers.

    Some lawyers may offer a flat-rate for matters like simple wills or when you are buying or selling a home.

    Some lawyers may agree to a contingency fee arrangement.  The lawyer will charge a percentage of a final settlement amount as his or her fee.  You will still have to pay expenses like filing fees and charges for reports, as the case goes along.

    There are some lawyers who are prepared to charge for portions of the legal work, for example drafting some of the court forms or coaching if you will be going to court.  These are called unbundled fees.

    It is important to ask your lawyer about their rates and fee structures.

  • Will fees be agreed to in my first meeting with a lawyer?

    In your first meeting with a lawyer, you should discuss fees and methods of payment. If your case is likely to be uncontested, such as in a real estate, wills and estates, or some simple divorce matters, the lawyer may charge a flat rate. Ask for a retainer agreement which will make clear what you have to pay.

  • What percentage will a lawyer charge on a contingency fee arrangement?

    Under a contingency arrangement, the lawyer agrees to charge a percentage of a final settlement amount as the fee. There is no set amount, so it is best to contact a few lawyers and compare rates.  Also, you will still have to pay any expenses, like filing fees, and charges for reports, as the case goes along.

    The lawyer must give you a copy of the contingency contract.  The lawyer must also give you a copy of sections 55(5) and 55(7) of The Legal Profession Act.

    Section 55(5) says that a client can apply to the Court of King’s Bench within six months of when the contingency fees are paid, for a declaration that the contingency contract is not fair and reasonable to the client.

    Section 55(7) says that if the judge finds that the contingency contract was not fair and reasonable to the client, the judge must:

    • declare the contract void,
    • order costs, fees, charges and disbursements to be taxed as if no contingency contract existed,
    • order the lawyer to repay excess fees to the client if the lawyer has received more than the amount taxed.
  • I just received my lawyer’s bill and there is no explanation of the charges. Can I ask for clarification?

    You may ask for an itemized bill from your lawyer. If you are having a problem getting this, you can contact the Law Society of Manitoba for help.

    Their website has a section dealing with complaints here

    If you still have questions, you can contact them at:

    Complaints Resolution Department at or call 204-942-5571.

  • What if I think I’ve been over charged by my lawyer?

    You have two options. You can go through arbitration through the Law Society of Manitoba, or you can have a Master at the Court of King’s Bench assess your lawyer’s bill.


    The Law Society of Manitoba offers a fee arbitration program. Both you and the lawyer must agree to arbitration.  The Law Society will arrange for a review of the statement of account by a neutral arbitrator or panel of three arbitrators. There is no charge for this review. Both you and the lawyer will be at the meeting. The review process is informal.  You do not need a lawyer. The arbitrator will either reduce the fee or not. There is no appeal of the arbitrator’s decision.

    Contact the Law Society Fee Arbitration Coordinator by phone at (204) 926-2048 or by email at for further information or to request an arbitration.

    Court Assessment

    If your lawyer will not agree to go to arbitration you can apply to the Court of King’s Bench for an assessment of your lawyer’s bill. You need to file a Form 71A Notice of Application for Assessment of Lawyer’s Bill and a Form 4D Affidavit.

    The Court of King’s Bench has an information package that explains the process including how to start the process, procedure at the hearing, alternatives to court assessment.

    You should read the entire package before deciding if you want to go through the Court Assessment.

    The filing fee is $35.

    Once completed, the forms must be filed at the Court of King’s Bench (in Winnipeg, the Law Courts Building at 408 York Ave.).

    You should act quickly if you want an assessment. You only have up to 6 months after you receive the lawyer’s final statement of account to apply.

  • What happens if the lawyer will not agree to arbitration?

    In this case, you can apply to the Court of King’s bench for an assessment of your lawyer fees. You need to file a Form 71A Notice of Application for Assessment of Lawyer’s Bill and a Form 4D Affidavit. The forms are available on-line here:

    Once completed, the forms must be filed at the Court of King’s Bench (in Winnipeg, the Law Courts Building at 408 York Ave.).