LISING v SMITH, 2018 ABQB 1061


10.10: Time limitation on reviewing retainer agreements and charges
10.24: Reviewing lawyer’s charges: incomplete services and particular events

Case Summary

The Respondents had retained the Appellant lawyer to assist in an immigration matter. An invoice was issued on October 3, 2017, prior to the commencement of legal services. The services ultimately provided were of minimal value, and ceased altogether in June of 2018, when the Appellant was suspended from the practice of law. Subsequently, the Respondents filed for a Review of the October 3, 2017 invoice. The Review Officer significantly reduced both the legal fees and disbursements that had been charged.

Upon appeal of the Review Officer’s decision, the Appellant argued that Rule 10.10(2) precluded a review of lawyer’s charges “if 6 months has passed after the date on which the account was sent to the client.” While 6 months had passed since dispatch of the October 3, 2017 invoice, the Court declined to accept this argument for several reasons. First, it was not in keeping with the intention of Rule 10.10, which assumes that invoices will be advanced after services are rendered. At the time of the Review in this case, the invoice may have been stale, but legal services had been provided in recent months. Second, the Court identified the applicability of Rule 10.24, which allows for a review of lawyer’s charges without reference to a time limitation where a lawyer is suspended (among other potential reasons). Moreover, as a general comment, the Court acknowledged the Law Society of Alberta’s Code of Conduct provisions addressing lawyer’s charges as an aid in interpreting the review process Rules, and in particular, the Code of Conduct’s expectation of fair and reasonable charges, disclosed in a timely fashion.

In addition, the Appellant argued that the Review Officer did not have a sufficient understanding of the immigration process to rule on the reasonableness of associated legal charges. The Court rejected this argument as there was no complexity to be misunderstood – the evidence established only the partial completion of standard immigration forms that had been provided by the Respondents.

Lastly, the Appellant argued that the Review Officer failed to give effect to the retainer agreement in place. However, the Appellant had not provided the retainer agreement to the Review Officer, despite instructions on the Appointment Notice to do so, and despite the warning on the Appointment Notice of forfeited rights if the retainer agreement was not provided. In any event, the Court found that the Review Officer had discretion to consider a fee unreasonable even if it had been in compliance with the retainer agreement.

View CanLII Details