Yes you can. However, there are important steps that you can take before you get a bill that is too high.
When you first retain your lawyer, it’s important to discuss how the lawyer will bill you and what he or she estimates the costs will be. The more court appearances there are, the larger your fee will be. So there’s a strong incentive on the parties to settle when they have to pay for legal fees.
You can keep costs down in the following ways:
provide information to your lawyer in an organized, brief, and timely manner
avoid lengthy telephones calls regarding matters other than your case
if you’re very upset, seek the support of social workers or therapists to help you; your lawyer should sympathize with you, but he can’t be your therapist
you should be able to trust and rely upon your lawyer’s advice (if you can’t, you may need another lawyer). If you don’t follow proper legal advice, your case may require more time and money to settle
settle if your lawyer advises you to do so.
If you feel that your bill is too high, study the bill, analyze what your lawyer did on a day-by-day basis, and compare it with your retainer. Did he follow your instructions? If he didn’t provide you with a detailed breakdown, ask for one.
Next, call your lawyer and tell him you would like some non-billable time to discuss the bill. Meet with him face-to-face and discuss the details. Be prepared to tell him why you think it’s too high, compared to what the terms of his retainer were and what happened. He should be prepared to reduce your bill if the situation merits it.
If you and your lawyer can’t work things out, you can have your fees assessed, which would likely end your solicitor-client relationship. You would have to retain new counsel if your matter isn’t finished. There are four steps in the assessment process:
Obtain an Order of Assessment from the local assessment office closest to your lawyer’s office within one month of receiving your final bill
Obtain appointment for a hearing
Serve upon your lawyer copies of papers and file proof in the court
Attend the hearing.
This is only a summary of what’s involved in assessment; get independent legal advice if you wish to pursue this.
George C. Eyre is a family lawyer practicing in downtown Toronto.
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