Billing tips for criminal lawyers
Dos and don’ts before you bill, when you bill, bill for discretion and submit dockets
Before you bill
- Obtain all possible amendments/authorizations from the district office before starting your online account. This will ensure you are paid the correct tariff. Lawyer Services and Payments (LSP) will only pay up to the maximum tariff and will ask you to seek additional authorizations before considering discretion.
- Get a mid-case management or Big Case Management budget if appropriate. These are pre-approved budgets, and are not the same as discretionary payments.
- Get pre-approval from LSP for disbursements. The Disbursements Handbook lists all disbursements requiring pre-approval. You will need to attach your invoices for such disbursements when billing. Billing unapproved disbursements may result in the denial of your expenditure for payment.
When you submit a bill for payment of tariff
- Bill court days correctly. The system automatically adds the first billed court day for you. This means that the number of court days you need to enter for a first account is actual days minus one day. For subsequent accounts, you enter the actual number of court days. For instance:
- on a first account, where you attend three court days, you would enter two days
- on a second account, where you attend two court days, you would enter two days
Plus: always enter court hours for your court attendance when evidence is led, submissions made or a de cision is rendered other than for adjournments.
- Clearly specify services you provide for court attendance. Generic or boiler plate descriptions such as attend court are insufficient. They may, if you are requesting discretion, result in your account not being paid.
- Bill on time to avoid payment delays and the potential for an unpaid account. Deadlines are annual, based on each anniversary date of the certificate issue date, plus six months. For instance, the deadlines for a certificate issued on Feb. 5, 2013 are:
- first deadline: Aug. 5, 2014
- second deadline: Aug. 5, 2015
- third and final deadline: Aug. 5, 2016
Go to the Upcoming Billing Deadline report for more information, and to see account deadlines for the next 90 days.
- Select and bill for all services provided. “Bill enhancers” include bail hearings, Judicial Pre‑Trials and Gladue submissions. If you don’t do this, the system may calculate your tariff incorrectly, and payment will be delayed or reduced.
- Enter plea/outcome correctly. This information determines the number of tariff hours you can bill. The system is programmed to help you. For instance, if you have conducted a preliminary hearing and enter “Contested Trial, less than 10 days,” you won’t be allowed to enter 11 days.
- Attach private dockets.
Do not bill for:
Ongoing services after the date of cancellation or termination. LAO cannot pay for these services. Contact the district office to resolve the cancellation or termination of a certificate.
When you bill for a block fee certificate
- try to bill Charges Heard Separately. When charges are block fee eligible:
- the certificate is always block fee, even if you are billing hourly
- you will need to get a new certificate for Charges Heard Separately matters.
- request discretion. You cannot request discretion on a block fee account
- request a DG exemption after you have already submitted your block fee account. (see the December 2013 Better Billing Bulletin for more information)
- bill multiple block fees for one client, same day, same court. LAO only pays one block or hourly fee for any court attendance for the same client. If charges for the same client are resolved together and are authorized under two or more block certificates:
- bill the resolution on the certificate that generates the highest block resolution fee
- for the second certificate, indicate “Resolved on other Certificate” (see the July 2013 Better Billing Bulletin for more information).
When you bill for discretion
- Check off Yes to “Are you requesting a discretionary increase? when requesting discretion. Attaching a discretion letter, explanatory letter or Request Discretion – Criminal law form is not enough. The illustration below shows where you need to check this off.
After you fill in the Yes box and after the tariff portion of the account is paid, you will get the payment message 411: Your account was paid up to the tariff maximum with the remaining discretionary portion under consideration. The discretionary portion will be processed within 60 days.
- If you ARE requesting discretion but DON’T check off the Request Discretion box:
- the system will pay the account for tariff only with payment message 410: Your account was paid up to the tariff maximum as no request for a discretionary increase was sought. Legal Aid may consider a request for a discretionary increase if you send a written request plus detailed dockets within 60 days. See Tariff, pages 2-19 to 2-20
- the system will not assign a request for discretion to consider to LSP staff because it will assume your account is paid in full.
- Use the Request Discretion – Criminal law form. Go to this form on the LAO website and complete it. This form helps you make sure your request complies with the clarified discretion guidelines.If your request for discretion does not address or meet the discretion guidelines, it will be denied. You will receive payment message 425: the clarified discretion criteria for exceptional circumstances have not been met. If you are dissatisfied with the disposition of this account you may apply in writing within 60 days for a review of the settlement.
- Provide specific details of services provided for court attendance. Attended court is not sufficient. The result will be that LAO may not pay your account for discretion.
- check off “Request Discretionary Increase” box when you are not requesting discretion. This could delay your payment.
Dos and don’ts for dockets
- make sure your dates of service correspond with the dates of your dockets
- keep your dockets chronological
- always include times of day for all services of 0.5 hours or more
- detail and bill for time after or before the court proceeding
- account for court lunch breaks; in general, court recesses for at least an hour for lunch. LAO will deduct at least half-an-hour from your court time if you do not account for this
- detail and bill for time before or after or before the court proceeding or during lunch negotiating with the Crown, preparing documents, etc.
- bill for travel time to and from court if you have travel authorization
- detail hours and portions of hours, not minutes (i.e. “0.2 hours,” not “10 minutes”).
Do not bill for:
- your waiting time in your court attendance time. The exceptions are for Type II indictable matters where time spent at court waiting to be reached on the date of trial or preliminary hearing is billable as court time provided that the matter is reached and commences on that date and waiting time once the trial has commenced is treated as part of the trial, and is allowed as trial attendance.
- travel time to and from court unless you have travel authorization
- voicemail messages (sent or received) or unanswered phone calls
- time spent instructing staff and clerks, PLUS time spent by your clerk and staff receiving your instructions
- reviewing documents that your clerk or staff has also billed for reviewing.
How we pay you
Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) has a system that matches every account you submit against the amount our system says is the allowable tariff. If the account matches and there are no other billing issues (e.g. late billed) the system matches and pays the account. LAO pays your account within 14‑19 days of its receipt through Legal Aid Online, except for BCM matters which are paid within 30 days.
If your account exceeds the allowable tariff and discretion is requested, the system will pay up to the maximum amount of allowable tariff. This pay‑to‑max process runs twice per week. The balance of the account is assigned to staff to review and process for payment. The system uses a similar process to pay those disbursements billed within tariff, where the disbursement amount does not match.
The system will generate this message if a portion of the account is paid up to the maximum:
“Your account was paid up to the tariff maximum with the remaining discretionary portion under consideration. The discretionary portion will be processed within 60 days. If there is no tariff portion, the payment will be $0.”
This does not mean discretion is denied, just that staff is reviewing the discretion portion.