If a client has concerns about his or her lawyer’s bill, the first step should be to contact the lawyer to discuss the concerns about the account. Clients may ask for a detailed or itemized invoice if they do not already have one. It may be that the lawyer can provide additional explanations that will alleviate some of the client’s concerns.
If the client is not satisfied with the lawyer’s explanations, he or she may wish to apply to have the bill “reviewed”. The review process allows the client (or the lawyer) to have a bill or a series of bills assessed by an independent third party called a “Reviewing Officer”. The officer has the authority to reduce the bill where appropriate or to confirm that the bill is fair and reasonable. If a reviewing officer reduces a bill that has already been paid, the lawyer will be ordered to repay the appropriate amount to the client.
Sometimes a client will have their new lawyer make this application on their behalf, but it is not necessary to hire a lawyer to do this.Close
Lawyers can apply to have their own bill reviewed, either because the lawyer knows the client has concerns or because the lawyer has his or her own concerns. The lawyer’s concerns might be about the bill itself or about whether or not the client will pay the bill.Close
The procedures for the review of lawyers’ bills as set out in the Law Society Act, 1996 and the Rules for the Review of Lawyers’ Bills are not public and are confidential. Decisions rendered under these procedures are private as well.Close
Time Limit and Special CircumstancesOpen
A person who wishes to have a bill reviewed should contact the Law Society immediately. If the review process is not begun within the time allowed, it may be impossible for the reviewing officer to complete the review. Clients requesting a review must start the process within 120 days after the date the bill is received. Lawyers must start the process within 120 days after the payment due date stated on the bill or, if no date is stated, within 120 days after the date of the bill. In the case of a paid bill, either party may request a review within 120 days after the date the bill was paid.
This period can only be extended if the reviewing officer finds there are “special circumstances” that justify an extension. Anyone who applies to have a bill reviewed after the 120-day time limit must clearly indicate the reasons why he or she feels the review should be allowed anyway.
Please note: only a reviewing officer may determine if special circumstances exist and Law Society staff cannot give an opinion about whether a situation qualifies as special circumstances or not. Anyone who would like more information about special circumstances could conduct a search of legal cases in Canada. CanLII.org is a website where lawyers and members of the public can conduct free searches of published Canadian cases. New Brunswick decisions with respect to special circumstances are not published unless they have been appealed (see below).Close
To Begin a ReviewOpen
To commence the review process, either the lawyer or the client must complete and sign two copies of the Notice of Review. A copy of the bill or bills to be reviewed must be attached to each copy of the notice. Clients who have not received their bill might still be able to request a review (see below).
The Notice of Review (and a copy of the bill or bills to be reviewed) must then be served on the other party. When a lawyer is requesting a review, the lawyer would serve the client. When a client is requesting a review, the client would serve the lawyer. If the lawyer’s office has moved since the bill was issued, clients can use our member directory to locate the lawyer’s new address. Please open our Lawyer Search page, which will locate a lawyer by name or by region and provide a lawyer’s address according to the most recent update of our database.
Service of the Notice of Review might be done personally or by registered mail. For more information about service of documents, please refer to Rule 18 Service of Process of the New Brunswick Rules of Court.
At the same time when the first Notice of Review packet is served on the other party, the second Notice of Review packet must be sent to the Law Society at our current address.Close
Failure to Render BillOpen
If a client cannot attach the bill because he or she has not received it, the Society must be advised with the Notice of Review. If a notice is received with neither an attached bill nor an explanation, the Law Society may return everything to the applicant, which would cause a delay. In some situations where a Notice of Review is received along with details why the client does not have a copy of the bill, the Registrar of Complaints may be able to assist the client in obtaining their bill.Close
Reviewing Officer/Eligibility to Become a Reviewing OfficerOpen
Once the Law Society receives the Notice of Review, a reviewing officer is chosen to conduct the review. To become a reviewing officer, a lawyer must be a member in good standing for at least ten years. Candidates are appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council upon the recommendation of Council of the Law Society.Close
Deposit/Costs of the ReviewOpen
Once an officer has been assigned, the Law Society writes to the applicant to inform him or her of the name of the reviewing officer and to request a deposit of $150.00 payable to the reviewing officer “in trust”. This deposit will cover some of the costs associated with the review. In order for the review to proceed further, the applicant must provide the deposit by certified cheque, money order, bank draft or cash within five days of being notified of the name of the reviewing officer.Close
Who Pays for the Review?Open
The person who requests the review is responsible to pay the costs of the review unless the reviewing officer orders differently. In some cases, the reviewing officer may decide to order the other party to pay all or part of the costs of the review. It is also possible that the reviewing officer will not make any order with respect to costs, in which case the applicant will remain responsible for the full costs of the review.Close
Before the Review HearingOpen
Upon receipt of the deposit, but no later than 14 days following receipt of the Notice of Review, the Law Society prepares a Notice of Appointment of Reviewing Officer. The Notice of Appointment includes the reviewing officer’s contact information, and the reviewing officer now has full responsibility for the review process. The reviewing officer will then give the parties a written notice of the date, time and place of the review hearing.
At least five days before the date of the review hearing, the applicant must provide the reviewing officer with copies of the bill(s) as well as copies of any other documents to be presented or used at the hearing. The applicant must also provide the other party with a copy of any of these documents that the other party does not already have in his or her possession.Close
The Review HearingOpen
The review hearing will be conducted in private. Usually both the lawyer and the client will be present. A person who is a party to a review often has questions about what to expect and how the review will be conducted. To answer these questions, a former reviewing officer has prepared a very helpful guide entitled Solicitor-Client Review Hearings, which provides general information for clients and lawyers about the process that is usually followed on the day of the review hearing.
A decision will not be provided on the day of the hearing. It will be forwarded in writing at a later date (see below).Close
Decision and CertificateOpen
Both the lawyer and the client receive a written decision from the reviewing officer along with a certificate that is binding on the parties. At this point, the reviewing officer’s decision is not public. However, if the certificate is filed with the Court then lawyers and clients can no longer rely on a confidential process.Close
Possible Appeal/Judgment of the CourtOpen
If either party wishes to appeal the decision of the reviewing officer, he or she must first file the reviewing officer’s certificate with the Clerk of the Court of Queen’s Bench and then request an appeal. Staff of the Law Society cannot assist with either of these steps. An appeal, if requested, would be conducted by the Court and any decision relating to the appeal would be public. Decisions relating to previous appeals in New Brunswick would be available to anyone conducting a search for such cases.
If either the lawyer or the client wishes for the certificate to become a judgment, he or she may also file the certificate with the Clerk of the Court of Queen’s Bench. If an appeal has not been requested before the expiry of the time allowed for an appeal, the certificate becomes a judgment of the Court. The time allowed is counted from the date the certificate is filed with the Court, and is usually thirty days. It is the responsibility of the parties to contact the Clerk’s office in order to file the certificate, and Law Society staff cannot assist with this step.
Contact details for New Brunswick Courts are available online.Close
Contingent Fee AgreementsOpen
This same process is used to review a contingent fee agreement when a lawyer and his or her client wish to vary (i.e. change) the standard agreement adopted by the Law Society or when a lawyer and client want the lawyer’s fees to exceed the maximum percentage allowed by the Law Society.
For a definition, please open our Contingent Fee Agreements page to read more about these fee arrangements and the maximum percentage allowed
The confidential procedure for applying to have a contingent fee agreement reviewed is the same as for applying to have a bill reviewed. It is usually undertaken by the lawyer on behalf of both himself or herself and the client. However, the reviewing officer does not normally hold hearings for such reviews. Once the modified agreement has been assessed, the reviewing officer sends a decision in writing to both the lawyer and the client, advising if the agreement is allowed or not. The decision is also filed with the Law Society.Close
If You Still Have QuestionsOpen