LEIA v STYLES, 2023 ABKB 213


10.2: Payment for lawyer’s services and contents of lawyer’s account
10.41: Assessment officer’s decision
10.9: Reasonableness of retainer agreements and charges subject to review

Case Summary

A lawyer sought to Appeal the decision of a Review Officer to reduce his fees. In particular, he argued that the Review Officer erred by applying a student rate to hours billed for research, correspondence, and reporting letters, when a higher rate was agreed upon in the retainer agreement. He argued that the Review Officer also failed in interpreting the retainer agreement.

Justice Dario held that, pursuant to Rule 10.9, Review Officers have the jurisdiction to assess the reasonableness of a retainer agreement. The retainer agreement provided that, where possible, work would be delegated to paralegals and articling students at a lesser rate. Justice Dario found this to be a representation that an articling student would be available when this work arose. The fact that the lawyer did not ultimately have an articling student did not change the accuracy of the Review Officer’s findings that some hours should be reduced to the lesser promised rate for work that ought to have been delegated.

The Court further held that, pursuant to Rule 10.9, even where a retainer agreement definitively sets out an hourly rate, a Review Officer has authority to assess the reasonableness of that rate. It is an assessment of the value the client received for the work, regardless of what level of counsel performed the task. Similarly, pursuant to Rule 10.41, a Review Officer can remove line items that are unnecessary to achieve the purpose of the retainer.

Justice Dario looked to Rule 10.2 for the factors to be considered in assessing bills. These include: the time and effort required, the difficulty of the matter, the nature, importance, and urgency of the matter to the client, the client’s circumstances, whether some special skill or service was required and provided, the results obtained, the experience and ability of the lawyer, and the client’s prior consent to fees.

Ultimately, Justice Dario found no error in the Review Officer’s decision, and the Appeal was accordingly dismissed with Costs to the Respondents.

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