What to do if you think your Lawyer has Overcharged youNov 7 2023
Hiring a lawyer is often necessary when you find yourself in a legal dispute or complex transaction, but it can be costly. Lawyers in BC charge fees for their services, which can vary depending on the complexity of the case, the lawyer’s experience and any risk being taken on regarding recovery. While most lawyers try to be upfront and transparent about their fees, there may be instances where you have concerns about being overcharged. If you suspect that your lawyer has billed you unfairly, you have options.
1. Review Your Legal Fee Agreement
Before jumping to conclusions, take a close look at the legal fee agreement you likely signed when your matter started with your lawyer. This document outlines the terms of your legal representation, including how fees will be calculated and billed. Make sure you understand the fee structure, hourly rates, and any other charges. If you have concerns about the terms, consult your lawyer for clarification.
It is important to be aware that regardless of what may be in your legal fee agreement, all lawyers in British Columbia are governed by the Code of Professional Conduct which includes 3.6-1 “A lawyer must not charge or accept a fee or disbursement, including interest, unless it is fair and reasonable and has been disclosed in a timely fashion.” What is “fair and reasonable” depends on a number of factors such as the time and effort required, difficulty of the matter and importance to the client, whether special skill is required, results obtained, experience of the lawyer, any estimate or range of fees given by the lawyer, and any relevant agreement or client’s prior consent.
2. Communicate Your Concerns
Open and honest communication is key when dealing with issues related to legal fees. If you believe you have been overcharged, having a meeting or outlining these concerns in writing can be helpful. Express your worries and provide examples of instances where you feel the fees were unreasonable. You may be able to reach a resolution quickly.
It is important to raise concerns in a timely manner. Your options for recovery may be impacted by delay. For example: you may proceed for a review of a lawyer’s bill at the BC Supreme Court Registry within 12 months after a bill was delivered or within 3 months after the bill was paid.
3. Seek a Second Opinion
If you are unable to receive a satisfactory result yourself, it may be time to seek a second opinion from another legal professional. Unfortunately, this will also cost money and may not be a simple task; that will depend on the scope of services you have received that you are taking issue with and the structure of your legal fees (contingency arrangement or hourly). Another lawyer from the same practice area can generally assess your case and your lawyer’s billing practices to determine if you may have a claim relating to overcharging and advise you on the appropriate course(s) of action.
Our firm strongly supports fair billing practices and strives for transparency, which is why we list our hourly rates on the profiles for our lawyers. More information on hourly billing is available on our website here and on contingency fees is available on our website here. Our office does provide second opinions relating to lawyer fees.
4. Contact the Law Society of British Columbia
The Law Society of BC is the regulatory body that oversees the conduct of lawyers in the province. If you believe your lawyer’s billing practices are unethical or violate the Code of Professional Conduct, you can file a complaint with the Law Society and it will investigate the matter. While the Law Society does not have authority to require that a lawyer reduce their bill, there is also a free Fee Mediation Program that can help you resolve your fee dispute with your lawyer without the need for involving the courts so long as the value is between $1,000 to $25,000. More information of the Fee Mediation Program is available here.
5. Go to Court
Ultimately, if unable to reach a resolution through other avenues there is an option to apply for a fee review by the BC Supreme Court registrar and there is also an option to sue your lawyer through the Civil Resolution Tribunal (claims $5000 and under) BC Small Claims Court (claims $5,001-$35,000) or BC Supreme Court (claims over $35,000).
If you are concerned about whether you have been overcharged and how to proceed, we can help. You can reach out to our team at 604.853.0774 to set up a consult with one of our litigation lawyers to consider options.