Family lawyers in BC typically charge an hourly rate, billed in 10ths of an hour. That means they charge for each six minutes they spend on your file, such as telephone calls and notes to file, legal research, drafting letters and emails, document drafting and court appearances. Family lawyers charge GST and PST on their files because they have to pay it to the government when they bill you. They also bill for those charges that they have to pay for your file, like court filing fees and agent fees, as well as charges such as photocopies and long distance telephone calls.
Premium billing is when a lawyer bills you extra for getting an especially good result. I never premium bill my clients because you deserve my best efforts to get a good result, and I will always do my best for you.
Typically, mediators bill each side of a mediation equally so that there is no power imbalance in the mediation, so each side pays one-half of the account. Unlike lawyers, mediators are not required to charge PST, which is a cost savings for the clients.
A "retainer" is a deposit that a client pays to a lawyer to guarantee payment of the lawyer's account. It is normally enough money to cover the lawyer's estimate of fees for the next step in the process, but it isn't a guarantee of success or a guarantee of how much your case will cost in the end. These monies go into the lawyer's trust bank account to your credit, and they don't come out until the lawyer issues you a bill or your matter concludes. The lawyer may ask you to provide a further retainer if the matter hasn't yet finished and there's more to do. If there's money left over after your matter is finished or you and the lawyer part ways, that money goes back to you.
If we are meeting for the first time to figure out what needs to be done, I don't typically charge for the first hour of that meeting. If it turns out that I have to do something more than just simple legal advice, I'll let you know how I would charge for that and you can decide if you want me to do that for you before I do anything.