Monday, December 1, 2014

Legal bills based on hourly rates not always appropriate; value not hours matters

Bank of Nova Scotia v. Diemer, 2014 ONCA 851:

[35]       Having said that, it is evident that the fairness and reasonableness of the fees of a receiver and its counsel are the stated lynchpins in the Bakemates analysis.  However, in actual practice, time spent, that is, hours spent times hourly rate, has tended to be the predominant factor in determining the quantum of legal fees.  

[36]       There is a certain irony associated with this dichotomy.  A person requiring legal advice does not set out to buy time.  Rather, the object of the exercise is to buy services. Moreover, there is something inherently troubling about a billing system that pits a lawyer's financial interest against that of its client and that has built-in incentives for inefficiency.  The billable hour model has both of these undesirable features. 


[45]         In my view, it is not for the court to tell lawyers and law firms how to bill. That said, in proceedings supervised by the court and particularly where the court is asked to give its imprimatur to the legal fees requested for counsel by its court officer, the court must ensure that the compensation sought is indeed fair and reasonable.  In making this assessment, all the Belyea factors, including time spent, should be considered.  However, value provided should pre-dominate over the mathematical calculation reflected in the hours times hourly rate equation.  Ideally, the two should be synonymous, but that should not be the starting assumption. Thus, the factors identified in Belyea require a consideration of the overall value contributed by the receiver's counsel.  The focus of the fair and reasonable assessment should be on what was accomplished, not on how much time it took.  Of course, the measurement of accomplishment may include consideration of complications and difficulties encountered in the receivership.

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