Conciliation and arbitration of fees – Questions and answers
How can I contest my lawyer's invoice?
The conciliation service of the Office of the syndic can help you solve this problem.
You can apply to the Office of the syndic for conciliation by setting out, in writing, the reasons for your request and attaching a copy of the invoice to your letter. Make sure to include your address and telephone numbers at work and at home as well as the name and address of the lawyer in question.
Upon receipt of your application, the Office of the syndic will provide you with information and an opinion regarding the contested invoice based on the criteria set out in the Code of Professional Conduct of Lawyers. The Office of the syndic will attempt to amicably settle the dispute between you and the lawyer you consulted. With its help, you may be able to arrive at an agreement on the amount to be paid for the professional services rendered. However, each of the parties is free to accept or refuse the proposal made by the Office of the syndic.
The conciliation services of the Office of the syndic are offered free of charge by the Barreau du Québec.
You consulted a lawyer and you believe his invoice is not justified? Please contact:
The information clerk at the Office of the syndic
514-954-3411 or toll-free at 1-844-954-3411
What is the deadline for applying for conciliation?
You have 45 days after receipt of the invoice (including Saturdays, Sundays and holidays) within which to submit your contestation to the Office of the syndic.
Where the payment of the invoice has been made or deducted by the lawyer from the funds he holds or received for or on behalf of the client, the deadline begins to run as of the moment the client becomes aware of the payment.
It is important to note that once the 45 days have elapsed, if the lawyer sues you in court for the payment of his invoice, the Office of the syndic will no longer be able to intervene. In such a case, you will have to carefully read the documents you have received and act diligently.
If the deadline expires on a weekend or holiday, it is extended to the next business day.
What is the conciliator's role?
The conciliator will provide you with information and an opinion regarding your lawyer's invoice, based on the criteria set out in the Code of Professional Conduct of Lawyers. The conciliator will attempt to amicably settle the dispute between you and the lawyer you consulted. With the conciliator's help, you may be able to arrive at an agreement on the amount to be paid for the professional services rendered.
The services provided by the conciliator are offered free of charge by the Barreau du Québec.
What are the reasons why I can apply for conciliation?
There are a number of reasons:
- the invoice is not consistent with the hourly rate, percentage or estimate quoted by the lawyer
- you do not understand the invoice or it is not sufficiently detailed and you need an explanation
- you consider the amount exorbitant in relation to the services rendered
It is important to note that a client's financial problems are not valid grounds for applying for conciliation.
When does conciliation end?
When a settlement has been entered into between you and the lawyer or when the conciliator ascertains that there is no possibility of an agreement between the parties. In the latter case, you may go on to the next step, which is arbitration.
What happens if the conciliation does not produce any results?
In such a case, you can move on to the Barreau's arbitration procedure to decide the dispute.
When the conciliator establishes the failure of the conciliation, he sends the client his report together with a form for applying for arbitration. The client then has a period of 30 days from the date of the report to avail himself of the arbitration procedure by filling out the form and sending it to the Barreau du Québec's registry office for the arbitration of accounts. This is a strict time limit.
The arbitration registry has the task of ensuring that the process functions in accordance with the Regulation respecting the conciliation and arbitration procedure for the accounts of advocates. It obtains the conciliation file from the Office of the syndic in order to create an arbitration file and serves all necessary documents throughout the process.
When the contested amount is $7,000 or more, the arbitration is entrusted to an arbitration council consisting of three arbitrators; if the amount is less than $7,000, the dispute is decided by a sole arbitrator.
Although less formal, the arbitration procedure is similar to a court proceeding. The parties are entitled to be represented or assisted by a lawyer. The arbitrator or the arbitration council, as the case may be, listens to the parties (clients and lawyers) and witnesses and receives any documents the parties want to file. The hearing is the opportunity for the client to provide a detailed explanation of his arguments and the reasons for contesting the lawyer's invoice.
The arbitrator or the arbitration council may render a decision from the bench (i.e., immediately after the hearing), but in most cases, the matter is taken under advisement for a few weeks and a decision, referred to as an arbitration award, is then rendered. The arbitration award can order the reimbursement of an amount to which a party is entitled, or reduce an invoice or maintain it, all with or without interest. In addition, the arbitrator or the arbitration council can order either party or both of them to pay the costs of the arbitration, i.e., the expenses incurred by the Barreau to hold the arbitration. Under no circumstances can these costs exceed 15% of the amount of the contested invoice.
The decision is final and without appeal. Therefore, it is enforceable.
Who are the arbitrators?
Lawyers who are members of the Order and have been selected by the Barreau based on their integrity and professional qualities. In order to avoid costs and respect regional realities, arbitrators generally practise in the same region as the lawyer whose invoice is being contested.
What is the deadline for applying for arbitration?
You have 30 days following the date of the conciliation report within which to fill out and send your application for arbitration. This is a strict time limit.
If you miss this deadline, the lawyer will be able to go to court to claim the amount of his invoice from you.
What happens after an application for arbitration has been sent to the Barreau?
The Barreau will send you a registered letter a few weeks later. This letter, referred to as a notice of hearing, will tell you where, when (day and time) and before whom the arbitration will take place. You will receive this letter at least 10 days before the hearing date. You must be present at the hearing.
What should you do if you cannot be present on the day and at the time scheduled for the hearing?
If you have serious reasons to apply for a postponement, the arbitrators may postpone your hearing to a later date.
To request a change of date or time, you must address your request to the arbitrators and explain the reasons why you will not be able to attend the hearing on the day and at the time scheduled. You must send this request to the arbitration registry, which will forward your request to the arbitrators. Insofar as the arbitrators receive your letter before the hearing - and only on this condition - they will decide whether or not to accept your request. Their decision is final.
Where are hearings held?
Hearings are held in the region where the lawyer whose invoice is being contested practises.
Who is present at the hearing?
You and the lawyer whose invoice you are contesting, as well as your lawyer, if you have chosen to be represented by a lawyer. There will also be an arbitrator (if the contested amount is less than $7,000) or an arbitration council comprised of three arbitrators (if the contested amount is $7,000 or more).
What happens at the hearing?
First the arbitrator presents himself and swears in the parties. The arbitrator asks you what you want (a reduction of the invoice, the reimbursement of an advance made to the lawyer, etc.). It is important to explain in detail the reasons for your contestation and all the reasons why you have applied for arbitration. Next, the arbitrator will ask the lawyer whose invoice you are contesting for his version of the facts.
The arbitration process is less formal than a trial in a court of law.
Can you be questioned during the hearing?
The arbitrator will undoubtedly ask you a few questions. It is also possible that the lawyer whose invoice you are contesting will ask you some questions.
When will the arbitrators' decision be made?
The arbitrators may render their decision at the hearing, but in most cases, they prefer to do so after the hearing.
Peut-on contester la décision rendue par les arbitres?
Non, leur décision est finale et sans appel.
Can the arbitrators' decision be contested?
No, their decision is final and without appeal.
What should I do if the arbitrators find that I owe money to my lawyer?
You must pay the entire amount determined by the arbitrators to the lawyer (and not to the Barreau).
If you do not pay this amount as soon as the arbitration award is rendered, the lawyer will be entitled to go to court to have it enforced and will use the appropriate means (garnish your wages, seize your movable property, etc.).
What should you do if you accept part of the lawyer's invoice?
If you have previously acknowledged that you owe the lawyer an amount that has not yet been paid at the conciliation stage, you must send a cheque to the Barreau payable to the order of the “Directeur général du Barreau en fidéicommis”. The Barreau will cash the cheque and immediately remit the amount to the lawyer whose invoice is being contested.