Application Review & Assessment
Overview of the role of a Review Officer, how to challenge lawyers’ bills.
If you think your assessment doesn’t accurately reflect your education and experience, you can:
1. Request an assessment review
If you wish to submit information not included in your first application that you think might change your assessment decision, or you think the assessment decision does not accurately reflect your education or experience, you may request a file review.
The review can include documents related to your legal education, licensure or professional experience as a lawyer, barrister or solicitor in a common law territory, or details about items that seem to have been missed by the NCA in reviewing your application for assessment.
2. Request an assessment reconsideration
If you have completed more legal studies since your assessment decision and think they may satisfy some requirements, you may ask us to reconsider your file. message to us asking for file reconsideration and arrange to have your law school or licensing body send us any law degrees or licenses we need to reconsider your file. File reconsideration is free.
3. Appeal your assessment decision
Before you appeal, please review the NCA Assessment Appeal Policy on page 19 of the NCA Policy Manual. All details are provided in the policy.
ROLE OF A REVIEW OFFICER
Review Officers determine the reasonableness of lawyers’ bills.
They have authority to reduce or disallow bills that they find to be unreasonable.
A Client can request a review to determine if they have been overcharged by a lawyer (or former lawyer) or to obtain explanations for billings that the client does not understand and the lawyer cannot explain to the client’s satisfaction.
Officer of Review
Lawyers may also request reviews. They do so because the review process provides them with a more efficient alternative to suing a client for unpaid bills. Regardless of who requests a review, the Review Officer will hear from both sides, review the lawyer’s bills, decide on the reasonableness of the bills and determine how much, if any, is payable by either side to the other.
In addition, it contains links to the court forms that must be completed and filed for these procedures.
Who can request a review?
A review may be requested by a “client” or a lawyer.
For the purpose of a review, the term “client” includes a former client. It also includes any other person who is liable to pay a lawyer’s statement of account.
A father could, for example, agree to pay a lawyer for the lawyer’s representation of his son, in which case the father would be considered to be a client for the purposes of a review.
However, where a person is liable to pay a lawyer’s charges because lawyer acted for another party in litigation and the other party was awarded costs equal to what its lawyer charged it, In such a case, the person may request another procedure, known as an “assessment of costs”
How do I request a review?
There are 4 basic steps that must be completed to request a review and obtain a hearing for it:
Book a date and time for the review;
Complete a court document – Appointment for Review of Retainer Agreement / Lawyer’s Charges;
File the Form , the lawyer’s accounts and other evidence; and
Serve copies of the filed documents on the Lawyer.
While these steps are not difficult, each involves procedures that must be followed.
Detailed instructions for completing all required steps and procedures can be found in the Review Office publication entitled How to Request a Review.
Difference between an assessment and a review?
An assessment deals only with court costs and the parties to it will be parties to the litigation in which the costs were awarded or are claimed pursuant to Rule 10.29.
Because of this, all court documents for an assessment are filed in the court file for the litigation. A review is a different and separate process.
Its purpose is to determine the reasonableness of the amounts that a lawyer charged the lawyer’s client or clients for the legal services provided by the lawyer.
Thus, the parties to a review will be the lawyer (or law firm) and the lawyer’s client or clients.
Because of these and other differences between assessments and reviews, the court form that is filed to commence a review opens a new court file for the review. Before booking and filing documents for an assessment or a review, the party requesting the process must ensure that they are requesting the correct process.
Once all examples have been validated, the assessment stage begins and involves assessors from the regulator who review all of the competency examples and validator comments. All individuals taking part in an application (the applicant, validators, and assessors) are required to rate each competency example on a six point rating scale (0-5).
A review is a procedure for determining the reasonableness of the amounts charged by a lawyer for the lawyer’s legal services. The reasonableness of the amounts is determined in a hearing conducted by a Review Officer.
The lawyer and the client are parties to the hearing and each may present his or her case at the hearing.
The Review Officer listens to the parties, considers the evidence provided by them and makes a decision on the reasonableness of the lawyer’s charges.
If the Review Officer finds that the charges are unreasonable, then the Review Officer may disallow or reduce them. Subject to the parties’ right to appeal from a Review Officer’s decision, the Review Officer’s decision is binding on the parties.
The charges may be for any legal service. Charges for the preparation of a Will may be reviewed, as would charges for acting in a real estate transaction or for representing a client in a criminal or civil court. Where litigation services are provided, the court or administrative tribunal in respect of which the services were provided is irrelevant to the right to a review.
Charges for representing a client before any Alberta court or administrative tribunal may be reviewed.
A lawyer may use the review process to obtain a judgment against a client for an unpaid account. The lawyer could sue the client and obtain a judgment in the court action but this would take considerable time and effort and could be expensive for both sides.
The review process offers a more expeditious and less costly method of determining if the lawyer is entitled to a judgment.
Because a review gives both sides an opportunity to present their cases and because it results in a decision on how much, if anything, a lawyer is owed, the Review Officer’s decision may be entered as a judgment of the Court of Queen’s Bench.
Where more than one account is presented for review in the same hearing, the Review Officer’s decision and any judgment based on it will be for all of the accounts reviewed.
Where a Review Officer finds that there is money owing by a client to a lawyer, the lawyer may apply to a Master of the Court of Queen’s Bench to have the Review Officer’s decision entered as a judgment of the Court. However, this can only be done after the period for an appeal from the Review Officer’s decision has expired.
The appeal period begins when the Review Officer’s decision in announced (usually at the end of a review hearing) and ends on the same day of the next following month (e.g. if the decision was announced on May 3, 2019, then the appeal period would expire on April 3, 2019).
If a Notice of Appeal is filed within the appeal period, then a judgment cannot be entered until the appeal is concluded (assuming that the Judge hearing the appeal also finds that client owes money to the lawyer).
It could take months before the appeal is heard and concluded.
If a lawyer’s account has not been paid and the lawyer’s charges are reduced by the Review Officer, then you would be obliged to pay only the reduced amount.
If the lawyer’s account has been paid and the lawyer’s charges are reduced, then the lawyer would be obliged to pay you an amount equal to the reduction.
If the lawyer does not pay you, then you would be entitled to apply to the Court for an order requiring the lawyer to do so. However, such orders are rarely, if ever, required.
A lawyer who fails to comply with this requirement risks disciplinary action by the Law Society.
Where a review is requested by a client, a Review Officer may award costs against a client only if the client’s request was unreasonable or the client acts improperly or unreasonably at the review. A client who had genuine concerns about a lawyer’s charges and who follows all directions given by the Review Officer will not be penalized by costs, even if the lawyer’s charges are allowed in full.
Where the review is requested by a lawyer, costs may be awarded against the client only if the client acts improperly or unreasonably at the review and the award is subsequently approved by the Court.
These rules, however, do not apply to applications to the Court to have a Review Officer’s decision entered as a judgment or to appeals from a Review Officer’s decision.
In either of these events the Judge who hears the application or appeal may award costs of the review against the client. Because of this, a client who is found, by a Review Officer, to owe money to the lawyer may want to pay or settle with the lawyer before the lawyer applies to have the Review Officer’s decision entered as a judgement, since doing this would avoid the risk of an award of costs against the client.