December 22, 2009

Justice for All?

[Edited: The video is actually produced by the Access to Justice Coalition, rather than Access Justice.]

This brief video by the Access to Justice Coalition includes eye-opening interviews with lawyers and low income clients about the difficulty in accessing British Columbia's legal system and is worth a look:

December 18, 2009

What To Do When You Disagree with Your Lawyer's Bill

The best way to prevent disagreements between lawyers and clients about billing is to have a clear retainer agreement from the start, detailing exactly how you, the client, will be charged. It's also a good idea to have your lawyer contact you when the outstanding bill reaches a certain agreed upon amount or the work reaches an agreed upon stage, so that you can reassess the situation throughout the legal process, and avoid any sticker shock at the end.

But let's say its too late for all of that and you have received a bill from your lawyer that you think is inaccurate or unfair. The first step is to contact the lawyer and discuss it. Ask specific questions about how the bill was calculated and explain why you disagree with (parts of) it. Lawyers are used to clients griping about bills once the work is done, so its likely not enough to complain that it is generally "too high". What specifically do you disagree with? Which charges do you think are inaccurate? Most lawyers are more than willing to negotiate some items on a bill if it means that the client is happy and the lawyer is still being paid fairly for his or her work.

If you are not getting a satisfactory explanation or agreement about the bill from your lawyer, there are other remedies available to you as a client. The most inexpensive one is to use the Law Society of B.C.'s Fee Mediation Program, which brings the lawyer and client together with an experienced mediator and doesn't cost the parties anything. Mediation is worth a try since there is no downside to the parties, and it may be a cheap and fast way of resolving the problem.

If the mediation doesn't work, your last resort is to go to court to have the bill reviewed by the Registrar of the B.C. Supreme Court. Be aware that there are deadlines for having a bill reviewed; you usually need to file the court paperwork within three months of the bill being paid and within a year of receiving it if it is unpaid. These deadlines apply even if you use the Fee Mediation Program, so it is important to make sure that by mediating you are not letting time run out on the option of having a bill review before the Registrar later on.

You should also be aware that if the Registrar finds that the bill was fair, not only will you have to pay the full amount of the bill but you may also be ordered to pay the lawyer's fees and disbursements for preparing for the Registrar's hearing. For more information on how to have a lawyer's bill reviewed by the Registrar, click here.