Billing tips for immigration & refugee lawyers

Dos and don’ts before you bill, when you bill, bill for discretion and submit dockets

Before you bill

  • Obtain all possible authorizations for work performed 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 seek additional authorizations before considering discretion. It will also facilitate quicker payment by LAO.

  • 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.

  • Additional Hearing Dates: Should only be billed if hearing proceeds and continues where evidence is heard or led. Do not bill for hearings, which though scheduled, did not take place.

When you submit a bill for payment of tariff

  • Bill hearing days correctly. Enter the specific hours that you attended, excluding wait time. Note that billing for adjournments is not permissible, unless evidence was taken before the matter adjourned. Clearly specify services you provide for hearing attendance. Generic or boiler plate descriptions such as attend hearing will not be counted as an attendance. Specify what took place and the results, if any.

  • Make your dockets as specific as possible. Detailed dockets are particularly important for discretionary increase requests, as the examiner needs to understand why you exceeded the tariff and how the work related to the Clarified Discretion Criteria, in order to justify payment.

  • 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 designated representatives, doctors etc., 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 hours for detailed letters if you explain the reason for the letter and how it is expected to advance the client’s file.

  • Attach private dockets.

  • Attach BOC, narratives and notice of hearing for all subsequent hearing days.

Do not bill for:

  • Ongoing services after the date of cancellation or termination of a certificate. LAO cannot pay these bills. Contact the district office to resolve the cancellation or termination of a certificate.
  • Adjournments, first appearances as subsequent hearing days. This artificially inflates the tariff allowed 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 – Refugee 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 – Refugee law forms. Get and complete the Request for discretion—Refugee law forms. 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 hearing proceeding on negotiating, etc.
  • account for hearing lunch breaks; in general, hearings recess for at least an hour for lunch; LAO will deduct at least half-an-hour from your hearing time if you do not account for this
  • bill for travel time to and from hearing 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 hearing attendance time; if you spent time after the hearing, commenced to negotiate, etc., detail and bill the time
  • travel time to and from hearings 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 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.