Lawyers, much like other professional advisors, price their services independently based on market values. There is no standard fee schedule for legal services and, generally speaking, the Law Society has no authority to control what lawyers charge.
Before you begin using the services of a lawyer, ask the lawyer for an explanation of their billing practice.
BILLING PRACTICES & FEES
Before beginning work on a file, ensure your lawyer explains their billing practice and what you should expect to pay before, during and after your file is complete. The following are standard billing practices and additional fees you may encounter:
- Fixed Fee or Flat Rate. This method of billing is often used for specific transactions such as incorporating a business or purchasing a house. Some lawyers also use a fixed fee for specific types of court appearances such as defending a client on a minor criminal charge, or for standard Family Law procedures.
- Hourly Rate. Hourly rates usually reflect the lawyer's skill and experience. Senior lawyers charge more per hour than lawyers who are just starting out in practice. Rates often include time spent on the phone, in meetings, doing research, preparing documents, dealing with correspondence, appearing in court and anything else involving your file.
- Contingency Fee. This is a typically a percentage of the money the client wins in a lawsuit. If no money is recovered, the lawyer generally collects no fee. Contingency fee agreements are common in personal injury claims, product liability cases and class actions. More about contingency fees (scroll to rule #657)
- Retainer. This is a sum of money you pay to your lawyer as a deposit for the services the lawyer will perform for you and the expenses the lawyer will incur on your behalf.
- Disbursements. These are expenses incurred by your lawyer on your behalf such as government fees, court filing fees, courier charges, photocopying costs or fees paid for expert reports from people such as doctors or engineers. You are responsible for these expenses and they will be included in your legal bill.
- Taxes. Lawyers are required to charge GST on all fees and most disbursements.
DISPUTES INVOLVING FEES
The Law Society does not have jurisdiction to address complaints regarding fee disputes.
If you don’t understand some of the items on your bill or if you disagree with the amount, talk it over with your lawyer and/or a senior partner in the lawyer’s firm. Go over the details and ask the lawyer to explain why a particular charge was made.
If you and your lawyer cannot resolve your disagreement, you may pursue a fee review through the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories. More information on fee reviews can be found in the Rules of the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories under "Taxation of Solicitor and Client Bill of Costs" (rules 681-697).