In Speciale vs Shrader Canada Limited, an Ontario Divisional court judge reinstated a decision to cut a bill for legal fees down from over $1 million to $325,000. The defendant, lawyer, Anthony Speciale, refused to even participate in the proceeding that examined his billing practices between 2010 and 2013.
Speciale, did not provide detailed accounts to his clients to substantiate the fees he charged and when he was assessed was unresponsive to requests for information.
The client had sent Speciale a registrar’s order to assess his bills, and while Speciale said he had intended to bring a motion to set aside this order it took a year and a half to do so. A judge dismissed Speciale’s motion and said it was a “thinly disguised effort to avoid an assessment of his legal accounts.”
During the proceedings, an assessment officer ordered the $700,000 reduction in fees as well as over $17,000 in costs against Speciale for the assessment and motion he had filed. He filed another motion for an order to refuse to confirm the assessment officer’s report and certificate. That judge ruled in his favour, but on appeal a Divisional Court Judge overturned the decision.
Lawyers must be active partners with their clients when being assessed and not delay proceedings. Even more important, however, this case shows that block billing does not provide clients with a detailed explanation of work undertaken. Clients have become increasingly aware of what they spend on legal costs and are seeking a more transparent process to understand those bills and assess them if they are not satisfied.