Lawyers charging too much: report

“I’m sure it happens more often than not that lawyers are charging out at senior rates and having juniors do the work; it shouldn’t be done. Lawyers accounts are horribly inflated, and sometimes inexplicably so.”

National Post
August 21, 2000

Lawyers charging too much: report
NEW BILLING SYSTEM: Fees out of reach for middle-class clients
Janice Tibbetts

Legal fees are too expensive for average Canadians and the profession must adopt new billing practices to help a growing number of middle-class people who find lawyers out of reach, says a Canadian Bar Association report on the future for young lawyers.

Some lawyers admit their colleagues are to blame for clients increasingly rejecting the hourly billing rate and deciding to represent themselves in court.

Alan Young, a Toronto lawyer whose clients include Guy Paul Morin, who was wrongfully convicted in the murder of nine-year-old Christine Jessop, said: “I’m sure it happens more often than not that lawyers are charging out at senior rates and having juniors do the work; it shouldn’t be done. Lawyers accounts are horribly inflated, and sometimes inexplicably so.”

A recent survey by Canadian Lawyer magazine concluded hourly rates average $200 an hour in urban centers. However, the country’s most senior lawyers charge upwards of $1,000 an hour.

The report, released on the weekend, suggests lawyers could drop the hourly rate in favour of a flat rate, making it easier for clients to predict expenses.

Another possibility would be wider adoption of a new practice in Canada known as unbundling, in which lawyers provide some services for clients but also advise them on how to do some of the work themselves.

“A wide range of alternatives to hourly billing are already available, it little used,” says the report, prepared by the CBA’s Young Lawyers’ Conference, which represents lawyers who are either under age 40 or have practiced for less than 10 years.

“Although the system is deeply entrenched, it would be worthwhile for lawyers to consider alternative methods of billing as a way of positioning themselves for the future.”

“Clients find it difficult to swallow the way we bill,” said Leanne Andree, a Toronto lawyer who has practiced family law for four years and charges $200 an hour and the conference’s chairwoman.

Ms. Andree, for example, mindful that there has been a 500% increase in the past four years in Ontarians representing themselves in family court, has started offering a service in which she coaches people on how to conduct themselves in court.

The 100-page conference report is non-binding and its authors acknowledge that it will be difficult to get rid of the hourly billing system.

“But they might not have a choice,” said Louis Charette, a young Montreal lawyer who bills $170 an hour.

The bar has recognized that fees put legal services out of reach of middle-class Canadians who fail to qualify for legal aid. Many judges, including some in the Supreme Court, have acknowledged the problem must be tackled.

However, the report points out there are pitfalls to some of the alternatives. For example, lawyers who counsel clients how to proceed on their own could be held liable if the client fails.

Southam News and National Post


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