10.10: Time limitation on reviewing retainer agreements and charges

Case Summary

The Plaintiffs applied to request leave to review their solicitor’s accounts after the passage of the 6 month period prescribed by Rule 10.10(2) had passed. The Plaintiffs applied on the grounds that they had been “overcharged, misled on legal strategy” and indicated that the case had been ongoing and they did not want to jeopardize it. One of the Plaintiffs filed an Affidavit in support of the Application. The law firm did not file an Affidavit but opposed the Application for an extension of time to review their legal accounts.

Master Laycock first considered whether or not the Plaintiffs had a reasonable excuse for failing to bring the disputed accounts before a Review Officer within six months of the bill being delivered. The Plaintiffs provided no evidence in their Affidavit to explain the 16 month delay in bringing the Application, nor when they became concerned about the size of the account or the performance of the law firm. An explanation was provided during argument, but Master Laycock stated that this was not evidence and was therefore irrelevant.

Master Laycock also noted that if a reasonable explanation for the delay had been provided to the Court, then the Court was required to consider whether or not there was any evidence of prejudice to the law firm in bringing the matter forward.In this case, there was no evidence of prejudice; however, this did not matter because there was no explanation given for the delay in bringing the accounts before the Review Officer.

Finally, Master Laycock cited Twinn v Saw Ridge Band, 2012 ABQB 44, where Browne J. referred to the decision in P & S, Barristers & Solicitors v Legal Aid Society, [1994] 164 AR 208 (QB), stating the following about client-initiated reviews:

The six month time limit for client-initiated reviews makes sense for many reasons. Clients will almost always be aware of any concerns they may have about lawyer’s fees within six months of receiving the final account. Client-initiated reviews put lawyers on notice that a client has concerns. The time limit encourages clients to voice concerns close to the date they arise. This makes it easier for all parties (including the Review Officer) to resolve the disputes. This also allows lawyers to anticipate uncollectible receivables within a reasonable period of time.

In conclusion, there was no adequate evidence explaining the delay and as such the Application for leave to have the accounts reviewed was dismissed.

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