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Fees and Disbursements

Lawyers and paralegals providing legal services through civil society organizations are not permitted to charge legal fees to the person for whose benefit legal services are provided and may only charge disbursements in limited circumstances. For more information, see Civil Society Organizations below.

Fair and Reasonable Fees and Disbursements

Lawyers and paralegals are permitted to charge clients for legal fees and disbursements provided the amount charged is fair, reasonable, and has been disclosed to the client in a timely manner. What is fair and reasonable will depend on factors such as 

  • the time and effort required and spent on the matter
  • the difficulty of the matter
  • the importance of the matter to the client
  • whether special skill or service has been required and provided
  • the amount involved or the value of the subject matter
  • the results obtained for the client
  • fees authorized by statute or regulation
  • special circumstances, such as the loss of other retainers, postponement of payment, uncertainty of reward, or urgency of the matter
  • the likelihood, if made known to the client, that acceptance of the retainer will result in the lawyer’s or paralegal’s inability to accept other retainers
  • any relevant agreement between the lawyer or paralegal and the client
  • the experience and ability of the lawyer or paralegal
  • any estimate or range of fees given by the lawyer or paralegal to the client, and
  • the client’s prior consent to the fee.

Lawyers and paralegals are not permitted to profit from disbursements. Clients must only be charged the actual cost of the disbursement the lawyer or paralegal paid on the client’s behalf.

Billing Methods and Arrangements

Fees may be billed in various ways. Lawyers and paralegals should select a billing method that best suits the circumstances and the client.  Common billing methods include charging clients

  • an hourly rate for the time spent on the matter
  • fees for each stage or step in the matter, or
  • a block, fixed, or flat fee for performing a particular task(s), regardless of how much time is spent.

In certain circumstances, lawyers and paralegals may be permitted to charge a contingency fee. Where a contingency fee is permitted, lawyers and paralegals must comply with legislative and transparency requirements relating to contingency fee agreements.  For more information, see the Law Society’s Contingency Fees page.

Timely Disclosure of Charges to Client

Before or within a reasonable time after the lawyer-client or paralegal-client relationship has been established, lawyers and paralegals should provide the client with as much information about fees, disbursements, and interest as is reasonable and practical in the circumstances. This includes the basis upon which fees will be calculated. To ensure there is no misunderstanding, such information should be provided or confirmed in writing to the client.

When something unusual or unforeseen occurs that may substantially affect the amount of fees or disbursements, the lawyer or paralegal should provide an immediate explanation to the client.

As a matter progresses, a lawyer or paralegal should confirm with the client in writing the substance of all fee discussions that occur and, if appropriate, revise any initial estimate of fees and disbursements.


Statement of Account

Clients are entitled to receive a statement of account for legal services rendered. Lawyers and paralegals must ensure that all statements of account delivered to clients, whether interim or final, clearly and separately detail the amounts charged for fees and disbursements. The statement of account should also include the Harmonized Sales Tax and any interest charges.

Additional fee-related reporting requirements apply to lawyers or paralegals who charge fees on a contingency fee basis. For more information, see the Law Society’s Contingency Fees page and the question, What are the billing requirements for contingency fees? in the Law Society’s Frequently Asked Questions about Contingency Fees.

Fees in a Joint Retainer

Where a lawyer or paralegal is acting for two or more clients in the same matter, the fees and disbursements must be divided equitably between them, unless there is an agreement by the clients that provides otherwise.

Charging Fees and Disbursements through Civil Society Organizations

Lawyers and paralegals who provide legal services to clients through civil society organizations (CSOs) must provide such services at no cost to the client by way of service, membership, or other fee models. This means that lawyers and paralegals cannot charge clients directly or indirectly for any legal services delivered through CSOs.     

However, lawyers and paralegals are permitted to charge clients for disbursements relating to the legal services they provide through the CSO (e.g., court filing fees, photocopying costs, court reporting services, and hiring expert witnesses). If costs for disbursements will be charged, the lawyer or paralegal must, prior to entering into a professional relationship with the client, inform the client of the disbursement costs and ensure that the client understands his/her obligations with respect to the payment of such disbursements.

Additional Resources:

Contingency Fees
Referral Fees
Fee Splitting
Financial Management Practice Management Guideline
Sample Client Memorandum: Billing Information (docx)
Litigation Cost Estimate

Last updated: May 28, 2021

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