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IS YOUR LAWYER'S BILL TOO HIGH?

CanLaw shows you how to effectively and productively get your lawyer's bill reduced.
Lists numbers to call and people to contact to get the help and answers you need.

 

Here's how to have your lawyer's bill assessed and possibly reduced

ACT WITHIN 30 DAYS OF GETTING YOUR BILL.
Delays will make things much more difficult.

AVOIDING THE PROBLEM IN THE FIRST PLACE

This is advice you probably don't want to hear at this stage. When dealing with lawyers (or any other "supplier") get a written estimate in advance. Do not accept any variance from that estimate unless you have agreed in writing in advance. Avoid the legal equivalent of the "five o'clock surprise" by demanding advance estimates for all billable expenses.

FIRST TALK TO YOUR LAWYER ABOUT THE BILL.

The first step is discuss the bill with your lawyer. Your lawyer or someone in your lawyer's office can tell you exactly what your lawyer did in your case and how long it took. If you tell the lawyer why you feel the bill is too high, your lawyer may be willing to reduce the account. It is worth a try and if your request is refused, you will not be faulted by the assessment officer for trying to resolve matters amicably.

Your lawyer must provide you with a bill which shows a lump sum for fees and a breakdown of individual disbursements. Disbursements are monies that your lawyer has spent on your behalf to pay other parties who have provided services in support of your case. If you did not receive a detailed and final bill, contact your lawyer to request one. If you experience difficulties in obtaining a bill from your lawyer, the Complaints Department of your local Law Society might be able to assist you.

Keep written notes and proof of your requests for information and bills. There are time limits and deadlines which you must meet.

It may be wise to send a registered letter so you have solid proof ot the date of your request.

These deadlines start from when you received the complete bill in question.You may be required to prove when you did in fact receive it. Keep the envelope it came in (if you still have it) as it has the postal cancellation stamp.

      Second: Contact your local Assessment Office to make an appointment to have your bill reviewed.

An Assessment Officer who reviews the bill is usually an official of the Court in your province.

You probably should make an appointment to have the bill assessed as a precaution while you are negotiating with the lawyer. Try to ascertain what the charges are for and if they seem reasonable. Do not allow this to consume too much time.

If your lawyer refuses to adjust her bill, you can seek to have the amount assessed by a Court Assessment Officer. In Ontario if you apply for the assessment within one month of delivery of the lawyer's bill the assessment is automatic.

IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU ACT PROMPTLY TO HAVE THE LAWYER'S BILL ASSESSED.

Delays may weaken your position and make it appear you just are trying to get out of paying a legitimate bill. In addition, obtaining a judge's order could be costly and the judge may refuse your request for an assessment.

If you delay longer then the month, you will be required to seek either the lawyer's consent to the assessment or a judge's order. Obtaining the judge's order may require you to retain yet another lawyer, although it is possible to represent yourself.

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