So, like many other entrepreneurs you have an idea, then proceed to call a lawyer and because you’re so excited, you pay the lawyer whatever “retainer” they want – then at the end of the month when you final invoice or statement of accounts arrives all you can say to yourself is what the %&%* is this.
Did they really charge me for this? They charged me for that, I can’t believe they charged me to ask them for a quote! I’m never using these guys again and I’m going to tell all my friends too.
Now, you feel you have been overcharged for legal work. Well you have come to the right place, there is actually something that you can do about the lawyers bill – it’s called “Taxation” and it’s ran by the provincial government and courts system.
Provincial Courts Offer Help When a Lawyer’s Bill Is Too High
Low profile and most often forgotten, the taxing courts are in remote and hard to find locations, located in the Court of Queen’s Bench (AB, MB, SK), Supreme Court (BC, NF, NS, PEI), or General Division (ON). Unfortunately, Quebec and New Brunswick do not have taxing courts; the only organized means of recourse are the Law Societies, which are operated by lawyers.
While some complaints get nominal reductions or none at all, depending on the case and province, other consumers have seen their legal bills reduced drastically – as much as fifty percent in some cases – with Ontario and the Western provinces being more aggressive on reductions.
It’s important to file the objection within thirty days of the date of the final bill. Most provinces offer more leeway, and most have ways to get around the time limit –but thirty days should be the working assumption.
To initiate the process make your way down to the courthouse where the taxing courts are located and then pick up the complaint or statement of complaint form, then make sure you write out a coherent complaint (why you feel the lawyer and law firm overcharged you) and return the papers to the clerk with the filing fee, ranging from fifteen to fifty dollars. The clerk will provide you with a summons to serve your lawyer.
This is nothing like litigation, the hearings are held within a few weeks of filing. They are fairly informal, more likely in an office than a courtroom, with the emphasis on facts rather than points of law. Clients generally represent themselves.
The taxing officer (sometimes called a taxing master or assessment officer) hears both sides in fairly short order and then continues to make a decision, usually on the spot.
If he reduces the lawyer’s bill, he issues the client a legally binding judgment.
This being said, there are limits to the tax courts’ control and powers. They will probably find for the client if there is blatant overbilling. Some taxing officers also judge in favor the client if there has been an inexperienced lawyer on the case that has charged for excessive research – this is VERY common.
However, in some cases where a competent lawyer gave it a vigorous try, and billed a rational number of hours (which is no very likely), a taxing officer might not lower the bill no matter how disastrous the outcome. That is, the taxing officer is not prepared to say, “Your lawyer should have known the opposition had bribed the judge.”
Keep in mind, the taxing officers (sometimes old lawyers) know how lawyers operate it is hard to go wrong for a fifty dollar filing fee and keeping your lawyer honest.