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My Aunt is trying to instruct a lawyer (NOT a paralegal) to know her prospects of success, particularly to avoid adverse costs, before suing a large corporation for damages of $6000 CAD. Aunt shall not file a claim, if her prospects fall way under the balance of probabilities. Aunt emailed and phoned at least 30 law firms in Vancouver, in vain! Here are responses from 5 different firms. The others just never replied!

Even as a junior associate, my hourly rate shall eat into your claim. I cannot provide value for a $6000 claim.

Unfortunately, we do not accept new retainers just for Small Claims. We would act in Small Claims Court merely for existing clients.

Our firm has a retainer policy of $5000. Retaining us does not appear cost efficient to you.

Technically, I can help you out. But my retainer is $3000, and I am not comfortable with you spending this money on me.

Even though you are in Vancouver, we understand why you reached out. You are right that our hourly rates are lower, as our firm is located in the countryside. We do advise clients merely by telephone and Zoom. But we do not act for matters that happened in Vancouver.

We are not interested in taking this matter on.

But then how did the private individuals in these apex court cases find lawyer(s) to represent them, when their quantum was ≤ $900 CAD adjusted for inflation? What is my Aunt doing wrong?

In The Queen v. Savage [1983] 2 SCR 428, 1983 CanLII 32 (SCC), the quantum was $300 CAD. But Savage was represented by

Alan Schwartz, for the respondent.

In Attorney General (Ontario) v. Fatehi, 1984 CanLII 85 (SCC), [1984] 2 SCR 536, the quantum was $300 CAD. But Fatehi (Defendant) (Respondent) was represented by

Brian H. Wheatley, Q.C., and Peter A. Daley, for the respondent.

In ParkingEye v Beavis [2015] UKSC 67, the quantum was £50. But Beavis was represented by 3 English barristers and a solicitor firm — John de Waal QC, David Lewis, Ryan Hocking, instructed by Harcus Sinclair.

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  • Maybe they sued for principle, not for money? In which case they would have told so to prospective lawyers and showed them the money?
    – Greendrake
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 9:11
  • Stab in the dark: could it be because she is contacting large firms as opposed to individual lawyers who just have their own, private practice?
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 15:56

1 Answer 1

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Most cases of these type involve a strategic interest of a party, e.g., in a situation that is likely to recur in many future cases for that party making the precedent valuable to a litigant, or in future cases in which a lawyer is likely to find the precedent useful because the lawyer frequently represents clients who would benefit from the precedent that a clean case could make, even if it doesn't make economic sense in the particular case.

For example, ParkingEye v Beavis [2015] UKSC 67, addressed the pervasive issue of when penalty clauses in consumer contacts were void as contrary to public policy. The precedent is important for certainty in drafting almost every consumer consumer contract, which matters a lot for any decedent sized business.

In the case of ParkingEye, for example, their whole business model is built around the ability to charge penalties is someone parks beyond the time that they are authorized to do so, or without authorization at all. A bad result for ParkingEye, even at the trial court level, under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, would mean that the contract term in question would be invalid without a need to litigate the merits of the legal issue of the validity of that contract term in all future cases brought against ParkingEye. This effect on future cases against the same litigant often encourages a party to appeal a case and litigate it at a level far in excess of the amount in controversy in that particular case.

Similarly, both The Queen v. Savage [1983] 2 SCR 428, 1983 CanLII 32 (SCC), and Attorney General (Ontario) v. Fatehi, 1984 CanLII 85 (SCC), [1984] 2 SCR 536, addressed the important and routinely recurring question of whether a driver involved in a traffic accident is obligated to pay clean up costs incurred by a governmental body as a result of that accident.

Also, government litigants aren't as cost conscious and are repeat litigants in a great many area, and when a private litigant is sued in a case dealing with that issue, the litigation costs are generally paid by car insurance companies that are involved in litigating almost every car accident, even though the nominal party to the case is an ordinary person driving a car. One of the main things that you buy when you buy car insurance is a free lawyer in every single case where you are sued to defend you if you are sued for negligence arising from your use of a car. Both sides have a strong long term strategic interest in how the legal issue is resolved in future cases.

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