Challenging Your Lawyer's Bill

What Can You Do?

If you have a legal bill that seems too high for the work that was done on your behalf, did you know that you have an option to possibly get it reduced? This process is unique to the legal profession and is set out in the Alberta Rules of Court. The review process applies not only to a legal bill and disbursements but also applies to retainer agreements.

The process is relatively straightforward. The provincial department of Justice and Solicitor-General has Queen’s Bench Review Officers at its 11 judicial centres located around the Province; in Calgary, the centre is located at 601 5th Street SW. These Review Officers hold law degrees, have practiced law, and act as important gatekeepers of the integrity of the legal profession by ensuring fairness.

If you have not received a satisfactory explanation as to the charges and disbursements from your lawyer, you may apply for a review of your bill. You have six months from the date that the bill was sent to file what is called a Notice of Appointment of Service; this Form, along with the various other forms you will need including the Affidavit of Service, can be found online here. The cost for filing is $100.00 and is payable by cash, credit, debit, cheque, or money order payable to the “Minister of Finance and Enterprise of Alberta.” Court orderlies at the judicial centre can direct you to the proper counter to file your documents. You need to file the original document, plus three copies, and you’ll need to include the account(s) that you want reviewed.

Once you’ve filed your documents, you must serve the Notice and supporting Affidavit on the lawyer whose account you’re challenging. This can be done by personally attending the lawyer’s office and serving the documents, by recorded mail through Canada Post, or by hiring a process server. In any case, unless the lawyer or an assistant has acknowledged service in writing, you will need to file an Affidavit of Service.

You should note that neither Court Clerks nor Review Officers can give any assessment as to whether you have an arguable bill for review and what the outcome might be. You should also note that though you may have an agent or proxy to act/speak on your behalf, it is important to attend the Review hearing. If the Review Officer determines that the bill was justified, an award of costs may be made against you. Both you or your former lawyer may appeal a finding of the Review Officer. Finally, there are two exceptions to the rule regarding review of legal charges: i) the beneficiary of a Will cannot get the Estate lawyer’s charges reviewed; and ii) a Legal Aid account cannot be reviewed.

This commentary provides general information about the legal account review process, reflects the author’s opinion, and is not legal advice. Brian Seaman is a freelance writer/legal researcher.