Separation and divorce
Challenging your lawyer’s bill
Have you received your lawyer’s bill and think that it’s too high? There are several options available in order to reduce your bill. You can negotiate directly with your lawyer, go through the Arbitration Council of the Barreau du Québec, or even go to court in order to reduce the amount of your lawyer’s bill.
Discuss the problem with the lawyer
If you do not agree with your bill, the simplest option is to speak directly with your lawyer in order to reach an understanding. By negotiating directly with your lawyer, you may be able to have certain amounts reduced or make a payment plan.
Before you speak to your lawyer, take some time and look at your bill. This will allow you to identify any amounts you disagree with and to explain why.
When you speak with your lawyer, don’t hesitate to ask questions and to ask for explanations about any amounts you think are excessive. If they are not able to justify any amount that is on your bill, this might mean you can contest it.
Contact the lawyer’s professional order
The professional order for lawyers is the Barreau du Quebec (the Quebec Bar). It offers two free services to help you contest your lawyer’s bill: conciliation and arbitration.
Conciliation is a type of negotiation that can help you reach a settlement. It is done using a lawyer conciliator who works for the Barreau. The conciliator’s role is to help you reach a compromise with your lawyer. You have 45 days after receiving a bill in order to ask the Barreau du Quebec for conciliation. After 45 days, you cannot access the conciliation service.
If conciliation does not succeed, you have 30 days to ask the Barreau du Quebec for your case to be heard by an arbitrator. Arbitrators are expert lawyers who work for the Barreau. Their job is to reach an impartial decision. They can reduce the amount of your bill, cancel your bill, or order you to pay it, if they think it’s justified. Once the arbitrator makes their decision, it is final. This means that you cannot appeal an arbitrator’s decision.
Contest the bill in court
You can choose to go directly to court to contest your lawyer’s bill. Before starting this process, it’s important to know the steps of the process and what requirements you must meet.
Requirements to meet
In order to successfully challenge a lawyer’s bill, you need a valid legal reason. The validity of your challenge will depend on the facts of your case.
- Here are some reasons that judges have considered valid in the past:
- The amount of the bill is not what was agreed upon.
- Your lawyer did not properly inform you about the cost of their services (For example, you were not kept informed of changes in your bill).
- Your lawyer increased the price of their services without telling you.
- The amount of the bill is much higher than the lawyer’s initial estimate.
On the other hand, here are some reasons that judges have considered invalid in the past:
- You don’t have enough money to pay your bill.
- Your lawyer didn’t win the case for you.
- You fired your lawyer before your case was over.
Before going to court, you must first pay your bill and say that you are doing it “under protest”. Paying under protest means that you are contesting the amount and that you will be asking for a refund. When you do this, you are protecting yourself from being sued for failure to pay.
In order to pay under protest, you can simply write “under protest” on your cheque.
The steps for contesting a bill in court
1. Send a demand letter to your lawyer
After paying under protest, you must send a demand letter to your lawyer. In your demand letter, you must state the reasons why you are contesting your bill, the amount that you are asking for. You must also set out a reasonable delay to respond to your demand letter (for example, 10 days).
2. Apply to the court
Next, you must fill out an application to the court to request a refund of the amount you are contesting.
The court in which you will file your application depends on the amount that you are contesting:
- From $0 to $15,000: Small Claims Division of the Court of Québec
- From $15,000.01 to $84,999.99: Civil Division of the Court of Québec
- $85,000 or more: Superior Court of Québec.
Do I have to pay my bill?
If there is no judgment ordering you to pay, you do not have to pay if you are contesting your bill. However, there are risks to not paying:
- You may have to pay interest on the unpaid amount.
Check your bill to see if it spells out an interest rate. If not, the legal interest rate of 5% per year may apply.
- Your credit score could be affected.
- You may receive calls from a collection agency.
- You may be sued by your lawyer.
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The information presented on this page is not a legal opinion or legal advice. This page explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. To obtain a legal opinion or legal advice on your personal situation, consult a legal professional.
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