Accident victims would be best served by a simple standard-form contingency fee agreement mandated by the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC), personal injury lawyer Steve Rastin tells Law Times. The article discusses a plan for the regulation of contingency fees recently approved by benchers of the LSUC following a report by its Advertising and Fee Arrangements Issues Working Group.
“The concept of a simple retainer agreement is a good idea. The public finds these discussions confusing,” Rastin, managing partner at Rastin Trial Lawyers, tells the paper. However, he also urges the province to move quickly to institute necessary legislative changes to facilitate the law society’s proposals.
“The Solicitors Act is flawed. It needs to be changed,” says Rastin, a former president of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association. He tells Law Times that the most urgent issue deals with the incorporation of costs in a contingency fee agreement.
“I think it is about form over substance,” rather than so-called “double-dipping” by personal injury lawyers as suggested in media reports, Rastin says. Section 28 of the Act bars contingency fee agreements from including costs as part of the payment in a settlement, unless there are extraordinary circumstances or the client and lawyer both apply to the Superior Court for approval, the article explains.
“When I am in a room with potential clients, I explain my billing practices,” Rastin says, noting that some lawyers charge a lower contingency fee in addition to a percentage of costs. That way, he says, personal injury lawyers can better afford to take on cases of lower value, where damages awards are around $50,000.
“The real problem is the lawyer who is out there billing 30 per cent and taking costs,” says Rastin.
Other recommendations adopted by LSUC benchers at their December Convocation include:
- A know-your-rights guide for members of the public
- New disclosure requirements for contingency fee agreements including a clear breakdown of the final settlement
- Additional reporting requirements for lawyers and paralegals who engage in contingency fee agreements