Lawyers’ fees are governed by legislation that was first drafted near the time of Confederation, called the Solicitor’s Act. No other trade, vocation, or profession has an act that governs its fees and charges to its clients or customers. Should a dispute occur over payment, the Act sets out the procedure that must be followed by both parties.
If a client wishes to dispute a lawyer’s bill, the client may obtain a Court order to assess the account within one month from its delivery, if there is no dispute as to the retainer and no special circumstances. If a lawyer wishes to take action on an unpaid bill, the lawyer may obtain an appointment to assess the account after one month has expired from delivery of the account too, if there is no dispute as to retainer, no special circumstances, and no order to assess having been made previously. There is extensive case law as to what constitutes a dispute over a legal retainer, what constitutes “special circumstances”, and whether only the last account or all interim accounts can be assessed. Our Courts have struggled with the distinction between interim and final accounts and whether all accounts in the continuum or only unpaid accounts can been assessed.
Lawrences, and in particular, Ed Upenieks, have extensive expertise in assisting both lawyers and clients in fee disputes. Our expertise covers all stages of the fee dispute, including commencing the assessment process, obtaining disclosure and production, and attendance at the preliminary appointment, the mediation, and the assessment itself. We have also been involved in reported decisions arising from motions to oppose confirmation of the assessment officer’s report and on appeals to the Ontario Court of Appeal. Lawrences’ lawyers have been involved in contested hearings determining when it is appropriate for the Court to order an assessment of costs. Our lawyers also have extensive experience in the matter of solicitors’ liens and charging orders, which can be a lien on a file or on funds.
In addition to dealing with fee disputes, Lawrences also provides preventative advice to our law firm clients on running an efficient practice, minimizing the risk or exposure to assessments of costs. We have delivered papers and presentations to various legal organizations, including the Canadian Bar Association, Law Society of Upper Canada, Osgoode Hall, Ontario Bar Association, Peel Law Association, and various county and district law associations.
We provide counsel and advice on best practices for docketing, billing, reporting, keeping the client informed, preparing fee estimates, and monitoring work-in-progress and accounts receivable. Our proactive advice includes counselling on who to take on as a client.