|Editorial Obiter: Gabrielle Giroday|
In the ruling, Justice Ian Nordheimer documents issues with the processes that lawyers must go through to get unpaid fees, and he also issues a reproach to the provincial government for failing to deal with the issue.
“The situation in the Assessment Office has deteriorated . . . while the number of lawyers in the Province has increased, as has the amount of legal services being provided and also, presumably, the number of written fee agreements being entered into,” he says.
Law Times reports that backlogs in the assessment office at the Ontario Superior Court in Toronto have often led to waits of more than three years before lawyers seeing fees have their matters heard by an assessment officer.
“. . . The assessment office cannot handle the demands that are currently made of it, and the problems that would be created if every written fee agreement for contentious work, had to be reviewed, through that system, before a lawyer could receive his/her fees,” says the ruling. The ruling states lawyers can bring an action in court to collect unpaid fees, as long as there is no quantum dispute.
“If there is a quantum dispute and you’re within the time frame for proceeding with an assessment, then you’re stuck with that, but if there is no quantum dispute, it seemed to be quite silly to go through this lengthy, protracted assessment process, which, of course, wasn’t intended to be that but became that,” says Matthew Diskin, a partner with Gilbert’s LLP.
Silly, indeed. Members of the profession will be pleased to hear of a push for progress.