Billing tips for family 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 on‑line 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 sewek additional authorizations before considering discretion.

  • Seek authorizations for multiple contested issues and subsequent pre‑trial authorization right away. This will give you as much tariff time as possible. In child protection matters, obtain the applicable supervision order or wardship authorization.

  • Get a mid-case management budget if appropriate. This is a pre-approved budget for which you may be eligible, and is 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.

  • Attempt to obtain, before seeking disbursement authorization, a Section 54 order for matters such as drug tests, paternity testing and parenting capacity tests. S. 54 is the section of the Child and Family Services Act that covers many assessments, tests, and reports.

  • For child protection matters, obtain the applicable supervision order or wardship authorization in advance. Do not proceed with only a two-hour opinion certificate.

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
  • Clearly specify services you provide for court attendance. Generic or boiler plate descriptions such as trial prep or letter to counsel are insufficient. They may, if you are requesting discretion, result in your account not being paid.

  • ALWAYS indicate the exact nature of each court appearance, i.e., motion, settlement conference, pre-trial, etc. Some appearances generate additional tariff hours and some do not. It is especially important in child protection matters to indicate if the court attendance is a temporary care hearing, a to be spoken to appearance, a case conference or a summary judgment motion, etc.

  • 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.

  • Bill multiple correspondence of the same letter at 0.1 hour per letter. If your case requires you to send the same letter to many parties, such as to Society counsel, OCL counsel and parent’s counsel, bill this as a single letter. In other words, cc‑ing a letter to multiple parties should not be billed as multiple letters. LAO may pay you more than 0.1 hour for detailed letters if you explain the reason for the letter and Examples: correspondence that includes a settlement proposal, an access schedule, or a list of requested disclosure. You will need to provide these details in your docket.

  • Attach private dockets.

  • Attach Assignment of Judgment of Costs and cost orders. Costs are the property of LAO and cost orders should specify such, indicating LAO is the creditor. Costs should not be enforced or collected by the Family Responsibility Office.

Do not bill for

  • Ongoing services after the date of cancellation or termination. LAO cannot pay these bills. Contact the district office to resolve the cancellation or termination of a certificate.

  • Motions, adjournments, first appearances and TBST attendances as subsequent pre-trial attendances. This artificially inflates your tariff allotment and could result in unpaid accounts or post-payment examination claw-backs.

When you bill for discretion

  • Check off Yes to “Are you requesting a discretionary increase?” when requesting discretion. Attaching the Request Discretion—Family law form or an explanatory letter 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.”

    Click here to download image.
    Screenshot of option to request a discretionary increase
  • 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 Lawyer Services and Payments staff a request for discretion to consider because it will assume your account is paid in full.
  • Use the Request Discretion—Family law forms. Get and complete the Request for discretion – Family law: Child and Family Services Act or Request for discretion – Family law: support, access, custody forms, available on the LAO website. These forms help 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.”

Do not:

  • check off “Request Discretionary Increase” box when you are not requesting discretion. This could delay your payment.

  • assume that discretionary payments are the same as having a pre‑approved budget. Get a mid‑case management budget if appropriate.

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 on negotiating, etc.
  • 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
  • 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 at court in your court attendance time; if you spent time after the court proceeding, commenced to negotiate, etc., detail and bill the time
  • 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
  • more than 0.2 hrs for Affidavits of Service and Confirmation forms; these are basic, non-complex fill-in-the-blank documents.

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 28‑33 days of its receipt through Legal Aid Online.

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-tomax 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.