The Law Society thought I would be a good person to decide the reasonableness of lawyer’s bills, and the Chief Justice agreed and appointed me. When a client disputes the amount of a legal fee, he or she can have the bill “taxed” or assessed, by a court officer known as a taxing master (master of the Supreme Court). I am one of them.
The process of assessing legal accounts is user-friendly and inexpensive. You find a taxing master on the Law Society website, and make an appointment. The appointment has to be served on the lawyer. When a client disputes his or her lawyer’s bill, it is often called a “solicitor-and-client” taxation. The determining principle is reasonableness.
The client does not have to have a lawyer to tax a lawyer’s bill, but as with any complex and unfamiliar process, it is a good idea. I do not encourage disputes over legal fees, and most lawyers strive to render a reasonable account, but clients have a right to know a bill can be challenged, and how to challenge it.
Recently I taxed fees and disbursements in a dispute between a lawyer and a client, and I thought it desirable to do a written decision explaining how I arrived at the result. I discovered that the Law Library on Water Street keeps a database of these decisions (assuming that the taxing master sends it in to be entered in the database), but there is otherwise no easily accessible database of precedent decisions. There is an easily accessible database of legal decisions through CanLII, and I intend to see if CanLII wants to publish or make available taxation decisions for Newfoundland and Labrador.