Responses to recent media enquiries
Response to Lawyers Weekly article
Monday, July 9, 2012
Letter to the editor:
I am writing to correct and provide further information about comments included in your July 6th article about Legal Aid Ontario (LAO).
Legal Aid Ontario Tariff Increases
In 2010, the provincial government established a seven-year schedule of tariff hourly rate increases for lawyers who provide services for Legal Aid Ontario clients. These increases reflect a Memo of Understanding (MOU) signed by the Ministry of the Attorney General, LAO and the Criminal Lawyers association that committed LAO and the provincial government to provide seven rate increases between February 2010 and April 2015.
Over the course of the MOU, the hourly tariff rates will increase by 41% to 66%, depending on the category of case. Since 2010, LAO has implemented four of seven scheduled MOU hourly tariff increases, resulting in tariff increases of 22% to 39%.
LAO payment of lawyers accounts with discretion request
On average, LAO annually receives and process 15,000 lawyers’ accounts with request for discretion. Accounts with requests for discretion are paid to the tariff maximum within 25 days and the discretion portion, which is a request for additional payment, is considered within 60 days.
A lawyer whose billings exceed the legislated tariff must request a discretionary increase. The onus is on the lawyer to demonstrate that the exceptional circumstances discretion test pursuant to the Legal Aid Services Act has been met. Once the lawyer has satisfied the exceptional circumstances test criteria and eligibility for discretion is established, Legal Aid Ontario staff (lawyers, paralegals and adjusters), will make a determination regarding the number of discretionary hours to be paid. This determination of the number of hours is based on the following:
- What is usually billed for cases of similar type based on the experience of lawyer payments staff in processing discretionary accounts and the practice of law
- The nature of the exceptional circumstances
- What a client of modest means would pay
Staff make an assessment of the work done by a lawyer based on the information provided in the lawyer’s discretion request letter and detailed accounts.
Lawyers who are dissatisfied with the decision made on a request for discretion can ask for a review – as outlined in the Legal Aid Services Act – within 60 days after their account has been settled. On average LAO annually receives between 600 and 700 requests for a review.
A staff lawyer examines the review, determines if there are grounds for discretion and provides the lawyer an answer, in writing. Requesting a review does not delay payment to the tariff maximum of lawyers’ accounts. LAO estimates that between 25 – 30% of reviews result in additional payment.
Some reasons for additional payment authorization include:
- New information is presented to support exceptional circumstances for discretion
- Lawyer has obtained additional authorizations from the District Office
- A second review by another lawyer who may be more experienced in that area of law can result in additional payments
Some reasons a review does not result in additional payment include:
- There is no new information to support exceptional circumstances
- Lawyer simply resubmits original request without outlining new reasons for discretion consideration
- New reasons for discretion consideration do not align with exceptional circumstances.
Lawyers who disagree with an LAO discretion decision can further appeal the outcome of the review with the court assessment officer of the Superior Court of Justice in their jurisdiction.