BETSER-ZILEVITCH v PROWSE CHOWNE LLP, 2020 ABQB 732
10.2: Payment for lawyer’s services and contents of lawyer’s account
10.26: Appeal to judge
10.7: Contingency fee agreement requirements
10.8: Lawyer’s non-compliance with contingency fee agreement
The Appellant appealed a Review Officer’s decision under Rule 10.26. The Respondent law firm had entered into a contingency fee agreement (the “CFA”) with the Appellant. The Respondent commenced an Action and eventually reached a settlement agreement in principle on the Appellant’s behalf. Afterward, the Respondent sent its final invoice to the Appellant (the “Final Invoice”) and the Appellant filed an Appointment for Review.
The Review Officer found that the CFA was defective and did not contain the particulars required under Rule 10.7 including the client’s address, additional costs, a termination clause, and a witness to the client’s signature. As such, the Review Officer evaluated the Respondent’s fees as if there was no contingency fee agreement pursuant to Rule 10.8. The Review Officer found the fees were reasonable and allowed the Final Invoice in full.
On Appeal, the Appellant argued that the CFA disentitled the Respondent to any fees because it had been terminated or, alternatively, that the Respondent was only entitled to fees and disbursements until the CFA was terminated. The Appellant also argued that the Review Officer had erred in finding that the Appellant could not rely on the CFA and that the Review Officer did not have jurisdiction to interpret the CFA.
Fagnan J. first considered the standard of review to be applied on Appeal of a Review Officer’s decision under Rule 10.26. Her Ladyship determined that the standard of review was deferential given the Review Officer’s specialized knowledge and experience in assessing the reasonableness of a lawyer’s accounts.
Justice Fagnan dismissed the Appeal. The Court determined that the Review Officer had the authority and expertise to make findings of fact about whether the CFA was valid under Rule 10.7. Justice Fagnan noted that Rule 10.8 provides that where a contingency fee agreement is defective, the lawyer is, on successful accomplishment or disposition of the subject matter of the agreement, entitled only to the lawyer’s charges determined per Rule 10.2 as if no contingency fee agreement had been entered into. The Court also determined that the Review Officer did not err in law, principle, or fact in addressing the Appellant’s reasonable expectations based on his analysis under Rule 10.2.View CanLII Details