Audit and Compliance Unit (ACU)
Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is mandated to provide legal aid services to low‑income individuals while being accountable for the expenditure of public funds.
ACU supports LAO’s mandate through the identification of billing errors that may have resulted in overpaid funds. ACU forms part of LAO’s Audit and Compliance Services Branch and is independent of other departments. Rule 71 of the Legal Aid Services Act, 2020 (LASA 2020) gives LAO the authority to examine accounts in detail and recover funds where appropriate.
What we do
We audit lawyer billings to ensure compliance with LAO’s Tariff and Billing and Disbursements Handbooks. ACU provides support to ensure the necessary controls and processes are in place to reduce the risk of billing errors and achieves its mandate by conducting random and target audits. When errors or patterns are identified, ACU makes recommendations to LAO for billing process improvements and topic‑specific communication and training for LAO lawyers.
When an error is found, ACU will provide information to help lawyers submit future bills accurately. If an error results in an overpayment, lawyers will be required to repay funds.
ACU appreciates that the volume of work done by lawyers makes some billing errors unavoidable. As such, we make every effort to inform lawyers of proper billing practices.
Our team conducts billing audits in a professional, impartial and objective manner. Audit findings and conclusions are based on documented, empirical evidence, free from bias and assumptions.
Lawyers shall retain detailed records to prove and justify all items billed in accounts for at least six years after the end of the year in which the final account is submitted. Record maintenance requirements can be found in Rule 63 and the General Terms and Conditions for Roster Members.
If your account(s) is/are selected for audit, we will contact you if we require specific documentation or additional information. In circumstances where ACU has not been able to verify a billing, we will advise you in writing, describing the potential error and/or request additional documentation/explanation.
Communication to and from ACU must be via the Legal Aid Online portal to ensure information and communication between LAO and roster members is accessible and properly tracked.
ACU only communicates with acknowledging lawyers when an account is audited. If an agent was used to provide services to the client, it is still the responsibility of the acknowledging lawyer to provide the information, and communicate with ACU during the audit. If necessary, funds will be recovered from acknowledging lawyers. It is the responsibility of acknowledging lawyers to deal with third parties.
Once an audit begins, requests for billing adjustments by a lawyer will not be considered (e.g. discretionary requests for additional payment or backdate certificates). More information on discretionary requests and backdating of certificates can be found in the Tariff and Billing Handbook.
We are unable to accept revised dockets once an audit has begun. Dockets submitted at time of billing should be accurate and properly reflect services provided to the client. If a particular service was not initially billed for, no adjustment can be made for that service once the audit has started. Should you be entitled to bill for additional services, we will notify you so that you may adjust your billing practices in the future.
In general, we may select for audit accounts that have been paid within the last three years; however, those paid up to six years prior may also be audited.
ACU utilizes a risk assessment process to identify potential billing errors. The process uses a number of inputs, including comparison of third‑party data against lawyers’ online billings.