When my son got in a wee scrape with a volatile neighbour’s car, it was almost laughable. Until it wasn’t. After spending thousands of dollars on legal fees, here’s what I learned about lawyers and defending my teen. Turns out, the lesson was priceless.

By Peter Carter

ALTHOUGH IT HAPPENED more than a dozen years ago, I’ll always remember exactly where and how my wife, Helena, my son, Michel, and I were sitting when the lawyer told us that his regular rate was $650 an hour but because he liked Michel, he’d “drop it to $500.”

We didn’t know whether to laugh or barf.

Michel had gotten into a very minor scrape. He was accused of scraping—with a toy—the fender on a beat-up car belonging to a vindictive woman who used to live down the block from us. We’re pretty sure nothing really happened, but she didn’t like us, she called the cops, and before there was even so much as an investigation, we needed a criminal lawyer.

Around the same time, I had heard an attorney on a local radio station talking about his specialty: young men who wind up over their heads in the legal system. He sounded very compassionate.

I called the radio station. They passed my name along, and—good lawyer that he is—he got back to me, and within hours, we were meeting at his office learning about how much he was going to charge. (Oh. I forgot. That included a $2,500 deposit.)

The process is long over with now, thank goodness, but I sure learned a thing or two that I thought I’d pass along.

First. Please stop being careerist. Lawyers are the same as everybody else except more highly educated than most. They’re as honest and as hardworking as your dad and mom. (Remember that awful neighbour lady who called the cops? She was the kind of person who would generalize about an entire profession. Aren’t you glad you’re not like her? Ha.)

Second, imagine this: We were in the lawyer’s boardroom, with Michel, when he quoted us his price. What were we supposed to do? Excuse ourselves for a moment for a private discussion then return to tell him he’s out of our league? With our son listening? How traumatizing would that be for a young kid? Especially if the end result hadn’t been satisfactory. While I’m not recommending you pre-shop for a lawyer before anything hits the fan, you might want to talk to your significant other about the possibility. The wisest decisions are not the ones you make under pressure.

On this matter, I agree with my older and wiser brother Tom who once told me, “You don’t want to do anything you’ll regret 20 years down the road.” While even the top lawyers can’t perform miracles, you’ll never regret hiring the best for your kid.

Thirdly: Do what you can to stay out of the system. The moment the police got involved, there’s no rewinding or fast-forwarding the clock. If the justice system moved any slower, it’d be going backwards.

And the last takeaway is actually a joke:
Question: “Why is divorce so expensive?”
Answer: “Because it’s worth it.”
When it comes to keeping your kids out of trouble, so is good legal help. ■