If you’ve been a lawyer for any length of time, you’ve likely had a client or two (or more) that have questioned or refused to pay your invoice. Sometimes it feels like it’s just the cost of doing business as a lawyer, BUT it doesn’t have to be. There are several steps you can take to increase your chances of getting paid:
1) Get (and top up) a Retainer & Have a Clear Engagement Letter
The most obvious step is to obtain an up-front retainer fee for your trust account and keep it topped up. If they can’t pay a retainer fee now, it is unlikely they can pay your bill down the road. If you work with flat fees, get full payment up front if you can. Also, have a clear engagement letter setting out your fees and the client’s agreement to pay them.
2) Don’t Ignore Red Flags
Sometimes you get signs that a new client may not be the type to pay. For example, they question your hourly rate from the start and try to negotiate your rate down; they tell you not to spend a lot of time on something; they phone you and keep you on the phone for an hour but then ask you not to charge for the call; they left their previous lawyer because “She was charging way too much for what she was doing”, etc. Don’t ignore your Spidey-senses. While some of these clients might be struggling financial and are simply cost conscious (and you may be willing to give discounts or offer payment plans), others, are the type who enjoy trying to get things for free in life and don’t respect your knowledge and the value of your education and experience. Listen to your gut.
3) Manage Expectations
Managing your clients’ expectations is one of the most important things you can do to ensure you get paid. When you are preparing to send out an invoice, ask yourself, “Is my client expecting this? Or, will they be surprised?” Hint: They should never be surprised!
While ideally all lawyers would charge flat fees and there would be no surprises, not all practices can work that way. Clients tend to get caught up on lawyers’ hourly rates, but they should really be focused on the overall costs. While it can be hard to accurately estimate your legal fees if you charge an hourly rate, you should be giving a ballpark figure for each step of the file. My philosophy is to err on the side of estimating high.
Also, sometimes clients have the means to pay, but they are hesitant or are avoiding payment because they are not happy about the work completed, or the lack of progress on a file, or because you did not return a phone call. If a client is late in paying perhaps pick up the phone and see if everything is okay or if there was simply a miscommunication. And make sure you are sending regular status reports, so the client knows about the progress you are making.
4) Make Your Invoices Easy to Understand & Easy to Pay
Your invoice is your way of communicating your value to your client. Do not just write “For Legal Services Rendered” and then $25,000.00. What did you do to assist this person and help them with their problem? How has their life improved because of what you did? Or, what have you helped them avoid?
Your docket entries should be clear about the value you are bringing to the table. Did you stay up all night preparing an oral argument that won them their case? Did the other side send over a 20-page email with several attachments you had to review? Make that clear, and don’t just write “Read email” or the client may be wondering why you charged for 45 mins to read one email.
Make your invoice easy to pay as well. Put clear instructions on how to pay on the invoice, plus offer convenient payment options such as e-transfer or by credit card.
5) Bill Regularly & Consistently (& after a Win)
Sometimes clients would love to pay you, but they can’t, because you haven’t sent your invoice. Psychologically it is easier to pay small monthly bills rather than one large bill for many months of work (and you will get paid faster). Won a big motion for the client? Send your bill while they are still happy with your performance.
Overall, the key to getting paid, and getting paid promptly, is to take your lawyer hat off and put yourself into your client’s shoes. Pretend you’ve never worked with a lawyer before. What would you want to know about your lawyer’s bills and fees? What would make you annoyed? What would you want your invoices to look like? What questions would you have?
What tips do you have to get paid? Let us know!
LSO Permitting Approved Non-Licensees to Provide Innovative Technological Legal Services Under Regulatory Pilot Project
For several reasons, including rising legal costs and lack of access to justice, many Canadians do not seek out lawyers to help with their legal issues. In fact, 80% of the legal needs of Canadians are not served by the traditional approach used by lawyers.
Earlier this year, the Law Society of Ontario Convocation took one step to address this issue by approving a five-year regulatory pilot which will allow any individual or entity (does not need to be a lawyer or paralegal) to apply to be part of a “Regulatory Sandbox for Innovative Technological Legal Services”. Once approved by the LSO, the participants in the program will be able to provide “innovative technological legal services” under the supervision of the LSO for a period of generally two years. This pilot program is important because it means that “non-lawyers” will be able to provide legal services to the public, something that has, up until now, only been reserved for licensees (lawyers and paralegals).
While it is unclear what type of programs or technological tools might be available to the public under this program, they could be similar to the legal tech services already available to lawyers and law firms, such as technology that analyzes or drafts contracts, legal research memos, wills or other testamentary documents, or perhaps analyzes case outcomes or predicts damages awards, etc.
The LSO anticipates opening the program to applicants in October 2021. It will be interesting to see who applies. Meanwhile, the LSO has just published the job posting for the manager of the regulatory sandbox, in case you are interested in applying!
Some feel that regulatory sandboxes are a good way to move legal innovation forward. However, others think it is not going far enough and want the LSO to stay out of regulating legal innovation all together.
What are your thoughts? Let us know!
You can read more about it the pilot program here.
Want to spark an interesting debate among lawyers?
Just ask lawyers if they think initial consultations with potential clients should be free or not. There seems to be no consensus. We can only conclude that there is no right answer (other than the answer lawyers love to give: “It depends.”)
There are valid reasons to charge, and not to charge, for an initial consultation. In this post, we look at those reasons and how to determine the best choice for you and your legal practice.
Why You Might Want to Offer Free Consultations:
Many lawyers offer free consultations to market their services and to generate leads. Free consultations open the door to potential clients with the theory that the more leads you have, the better chance of finding paying clients. Free consultations are then seen as a cost of doing business.
A lawyer may offer free consultations if it is the norm for their practice area or geographic location. For example, personal injury lawyers, or those working on contingency fee arrangements, often offer free consultations. Or, if all the other lawyers in your town offer free consultations it might make sense to follow suit.
Type of Clients:
Who your clients are may also help you decide whether to charge a fee or not. For example, a free initial consultation might be appropriate for legal aid clients. Or perhaps you work with sophisticated clients that have high-volume or high-value legal work. These clients may be interviewing and assessing several lawyers or law firms to find their long-term legal advisor. It would not make sense to charge a fee in this situation.
You Are Not Providing Legal Advice:
If the meeting is simply a get to know each other meeting and you are providing generic information (explaining your fees, your experience, how you work in general, etc.) then it may not make sense to charge for your time, especially if you are not providing any advice on the merits of the potential client’s case or legal problem.
Why You Might Want to Charge for Initial Consultations:
Too Many “Tire-Kickers”:
Depending on your practice area, sometimes clients like to meet with as many lawyers as possible to seek as much “free” legal information as they can about their case, with no intention of ever hiring a lawyer. Or they like to “kick-the-tires” with several lawyers to see who will tell them what they want to hear. Even worse, some litigants will purposefully consult with a lawyer to conflict that lawyer out of possibly working with an opposing party. If your practice area attracts these types of clients, charging a reasonable fee for a consult will likely act as a gate-keeping function. If the client is willing to pay a fee, it indicates that they are taking their legal matter seriously and are willing to invest in it. Also, if the client is paying for your time, they will respect it.
You Are Providing Legal Advice:
If you are gathering information from the client and providing an assessment of what your views are on the matter at hand and your opinion on next steps to reach resolution, you are providing value to the client and should be paid. Our knowledge and our experiences are valuable and should not be given away for free.
Steady Flow of Work:
If you are a lawyer that has paying clients turning to you on a regular basis through word of mouth or trusted referral sources, the need to advertise free initial consultations is likely diminished as part of your marketing plan.
Time is Money:
Free consultations may cost you money. Spending 2-3 hours a week offering free consultations to people who do not retain you means you have lost out on 2-3 hours of billable work. If you have the billable work to keep you busy, focus on that.
Other Options: Does not Have to be Just “Fee or No Fee”
If you still cannot decide whether to charge a fee or not, there are other options. Some lawyers charge a fee up front for the initial consult and then if they are retained by the client, they offer a credit for that time for future work.
Or a lawyer could offer the first 30 minutes of a consult for free and anything after that will be charged. The lawyer will likely know within the first 30 minutes if this is a client they want to take on or not.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for dealing with initial consultations. Whether you charge a fee or not is a decision lawyers must make within the context of their own practices.
What works best for your practice? Do you charge an initial consultation fee? Is your time filled with free consultations? Let us know if we can help. Hiring a freelance lawyer or law clerk to assist your practice will give you more time to attend initial consultations. Want to learn more? Start Here.
Business development and marketing should still be a top priority for lawyers and law firms in 2020. Now is not the time to go silent! But forget the tone-deaf pushy selling and self-interested promotion. That is never going to work, especially during a pandemic.
You might feel awkward about seeking out business now, but this global crisis does not mean that individuals’ legal problems have magically disappeared. People still need lawyers and the lawyers who are available and visible will be the ones getting the files. Some of our tips to show you are available are below:
1. Reach Out: Virtual Check-Ins
The number one way to get files in the door is to develop professional relationships with people. This has not changed. In the past relationships would be developed over in-person networking and cocktail events, lunches, drinks, etc. We have now evolved to “virtual” development of relationships through emails, phone calls, and video chats.
Reach out to those in your network, or people you have been following on social media, or lawyers you have seen at networking events in the past, and see if there is an interest for a virtual coffee or drink or an old-fashioned phone call.
Also, check in with past and current clients, not with the intention of selling your legal services, but with the intention of listening to them and learning what is going on in their lives and businesses. They may be perfectly fine, or they may be struggling with something. Once you have listened and learned, there could be a way you can help them. If you can’t assist, maybe you know someone else who can. Show you care about their business.
Relationships are key to business development. Do not ignore them now.
2. Set Aside Time Each Week to Work on Business Development
It doesn’t have to be long, but some time should be blocked off in your calendar to address business development and marketing each week. Make a list of the items you want to accomplish during that time. This could include the following: having one virtual coffee with a client or potential referral source; making a list of people you want to reach out to; drafting one blog post; send one tweet or comment on one LinkedIn post, etc. Make your list achievable, otherwise you may get discouraged.
3. Revisit your Website
The majority of people still Google to find a lawyer. When was the last time you updated your website?
Pull up your website and give it an honest and critical look. Ask yourself: Is the website up to date? Does it show that you are open for business? Does it look professional? Does it list all of your and your associates’ accomplishments? People want to hire “experts”, do you look like you know your stuff? Do you use lots of keywords for your practice areas to help with your search engine optimization? Does the website have a solid FAQ page? Is the language clear, free of legalese, and explains in plain language how you help people and what problems you solve?
Position yourself and your firm as a leader in your area. Lawyers can occupy a leadership role in the lives of their clients, especially during a crisis when they need help and advice. Show that you can provide that help and education through your website.
Do you have great online reviews? If not reach out to past clients and see if they are willing to provide some. Then, going forward, whenever you close out a file, send a quick survey or request for feedback to the client.
4. Up Your Social Media Game
In-person networking will be put on hold for the near future. This does not mean that your networking game must suffer. Meet new people over social media. Digital or virtual networking is the new game in town. Look at your or your firm’s social media profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. Do they need to be updated? When was the last time you engaged on social media with other lawyers, potential clients, your ideal clients etc. Search #LawTwitter or #LawyersofInstagram to find other lawyers to follow. Follow businesses who would be your ideal client. Keep up to date on what is going on in their industry.
Now is the time to get more involved on social media if you were not already.
5. Embrace Legal Content Marketing
Hand in hand with networking over social media is creating content that you can share with your followers and connections.
Spend time to brainstorm what your clients’ needs are right now and what might they be down the road? What will be the key business and legal issues for the industry or individuals that you service? Start drafting that content now.
Do not just focus on the negative (i.e the pandemic, economic downturn, etc.) Positive content can be a breath of fresh air. Have some uplifting news to share? Draft a blog post and share it on your social media platforms.
Also, market with all age groups in mind. What works for Boomers might not work for Millennials or Gen-Xers or (Xennials that micro-generation in-between that is often forgotten). Your content can be shared as short informative videos or podcasts or blog posts, or all three.
The main focus of your content should be helping others with information and not about selling your services (although letting others know how they can hire you is important too). Forget the legalese. Make sure you answer the question: how can you help people?
Do you help people with acrimonious divorces? Is one of your strengths settling neighbour boundary disputes? Do you help start-ups with their contract needs?
The focus should be on them and their problems. Provide the content that shows others how you can help them.
Now is not the time to bury our heads in the sand and wait until this crisis passes before we start our 2020 business development and marketing plan.
Plant the seeds now so the fruit of your labour will grow as we make our way through 2020.
Do you have any other tips in mind? Let us know what works for you.
Check out Erin's interview with Vivene Salmon, President of the CBA and fellow law-preneur, Kim Gale for The Everyday Lawyer Podcast.
Erin, Kim and Vivene talk about going solo and the challenges and rewards of starting your own practice:
Looking for some guidance during these uncertain times?
We've made a list of webinars and resources aimed at lawyers to assist with your practice and helping your clients.
CPD Assists (to help Legal Practitioners during the Pandemic), available to download, Law Society of Ontario (FREE)
How to Access New Government Emergency Relief Programs, April 2nd 12:00pm-1:00pm Ontario Bar Association ($50 Member / $95 Non-Member)
Litigating from Home: Staying Healthy, Connected and Productive. April 3rd 12:00pm-1:00pm, The Advocates' Society. ($25 Member/$50 Non-Member)
Urgent Motions During COVID-19. April 3rd, 2:00pm-3:00pm. LexisNexis (FREE)
Your Real Estate Practice and the COVID-19 Pandemic: What You Need to Know, Law Society of Ontario. There will be multiple live-replays and on-demand access asap. Replays April 1, 2 and 3rd. (FREE)
Virtual Fireside Chat with The Hon. Chief Justice Morawetz, April 6 2:00pm-2:30pm, The Advocates' Society (FREE)
SERIES: Maintaining Your Litigation Practice in a Remote Work Environment, Call-In Sessions April 7-May 14. 9:30am-10:15am. Ontario Bar Association (FREE for Members, $100 for the series for Non-Members)
Will Execution, Holograph Wills & Evaluating Capacity April 1st 10:00am-11:00am Ontario Bar Association ($50 Member/$95 Non-Member)
What To Do When Crisis Strikes, original air date April 1st Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice. (FREE)
Today's Privacy Challenges: Remote Workforces, Consent and Sensitive Personal Information. Original air date, April 1st Ontario Bar Association. ($50 Member/$95 Non-Member)
Urgent Matters: Defining Urgency and Other Critical Issues Facing Family Lawyers, Original air date March 31st Ontario Bar Association. ($50 Member/$95 Non-Member)
Litigating from Home: A Starter Kit. The Advocates' Society, original air-date March 27th.
Criminal Law Now: Bail, Parole, and Prisoners' Rights. Ontario Bar Association. Original air-date March 27th.
Emergency Powers and Their Limitations and Protections Against Their Arbitrary Use. Original air date: March 25th Ontario Bar Association.
Health Law Now - Emergency Management, Virtual and In-Person Care, and Lessons from SARS. Original air date: March 26th Ontario Bar Association.
Mindful Lawyer Series: Elevating Morale and Fostering Resilience in Today's Climate. Original air date: March 26th Ontario Bar Association.
Remote Workforce: Employer Obligations, Health and Safety, Privacy and Emergency Changes to the ESA, original air date March 24. Ontario Bar Association
Force Majeure, Contract Cancellations and Occupier's Liability, original air date March 19. Ontario Bar Association.
Lawyering From Home: Working the File from Start to Finish, original air date March 30 Family Law and Civil Laws & Wills Ontario Bar Association and Ryerson's Legal Innovation Zone.
LexisNexis - Free Coronavirus Document Kit for lawyers and free access to The Lawyer's Daily COVID-19 Updates.
Law Society of Ontario - Inventory of COVID-19 Notices & Resources (FREE)
Ontario Bar Association: Special Services during COVID-19, including Tips for Lawyer Wellness.
Canadian Bar Association: Article "Staying Sane While Shifting to Remote Work" by Jennifer Taylor
Federation of Ontario Law Associations: Updates on Information for the Profession and COVID-19 and Real Estate Law - What You Need to Know
Hull and Hull LLP: Execution of Wills During COVID-19
McCarthy Tetrault LLP: Podcast - Law in the Time of COVID-19
We hope this list is helpful. Let us know if you are aware of other useful resources that should be added. We will update this list regularly. Also, see our list of notices from the courts, Law Society, government etc. here.
Flex Legal is open for business as usual. We are freelance lawyers, working remotely assisting lawyers, law firms and in-house legal departments with their overflow legal work. Contact us if you need assistance. A list of our services can be found here.
We are replacing our usual curated list of networking events for lawyers blog posts, with a one-stop COVID-19 Information Page (updated regularly), with links to helpful resources and information for lawyers in Ontario:
1. GOVERNMENT OF ONTARIO
Mandatory Closure of Non-Essential Businesses on March 24th 11:59pm: Lawyers are considered essential. See full list here.
Ontario Limitation Periods and Procedural Time Periods Suspended: The Ministry of the Attorney General has advised that an Order in Council has been made under s. 7.1 of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act suspending limitation periods and procedural time periods. The suspension is retroactive to March 16, 2020. The Order in Council can be viewed here (PDF).
Suspension of Residential Evictions: See Court Order here.
Updates from Legal Aid Ontario can be found here.
2. GUIDANCE FROM THE COURTS and REGULATORS
Each court has issued its own notice or direction regarding procedures to be implemented in the face of this pandemic, see below.
Also an E-Hearings Task Force has been established with co-operation from the Law Society of Ontario, the Federation of Law Societies of Ontario, Ontario Bar Association and The Advocates' Society to expand virtual access to the courts. See more information in this notice from the Advocates' Society.
The Ontario Court of Justice’s notice provides that unless you have an urgent criminal or urgent family court appearance between March 20 and May 29, 2020 do not attend court. Further information on scheduling matters and “COVID-19 Pandemic Planning” can be found on the OCJ’s website.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has issued several important notices to the profession, litigants, and witnesses, which can be found on the OSCJ’s website. All civil, family and criminal matters scheduled to be heard on or after March 17, 2020 are adjourned. The court will currently remain open for urgent matters as described in its notice.
UPDATE: However, as of April 6, 2020, the court will expand the matters that can be heard remotely beyond just urgent matters. Details were provided on April 2nd: Family and Civil and Criminal. There are also Notices for each region: here is the Notice for Toronto.
For criminal matters, for any accused person who has a matter scheduled for any type of appearance in the Superior Court of Justice between March 17, 2020 and June 2, 2020, that matter is adjourned, unless directed otherwise by the Court. More information on criminal matters can be found here.
Small Claims Court hearings have also been suspended until further notice. You may continue to file claims online.
The Commercial List has also provided a notice of changes to its current services, provided by the Commercial List Users Committee. A similar notice has been provided regarding the Estates List as well.
Good new for E-Filing: Here is the expanded list of documents you can now file on-line.
The Court of Appeal for Ontario has suspended all non-urgent appeals from March 17 until April 3, 2020. Urgent appeals will be heard based on either written materials or will be heard remotely. Parties on non-urgent appeals can request that their appeal be heard in writing. For more information on what the Court considers “urgent” see its Notice to The Profession and the Public. Plus, all materials can now be e-mailed as the counter service is now closed.
The Federal Court has produced a Practice Direction and an Updated Practice Direction and Order re COVID-19, with FAQs. All Federal Court hearings previously scheduled between March 17 and April 17 have been adjourned sine die. This includes hearings that were scheduled to proceed by way of telephone conference. For exceptions, see the detailed Practice Directions.
The Supreme Court of Canada has closed the building to visitors but currently the Court remains open for case-related matters. To assist parties in filing their documents within the required deadline, documents may be filed by email. For more information see the SCC’s COVID-19 notice. Deadlines imposed by the Rules of the Supreme Court of Canada have also been suspended. More details here.
The Canadian Securities Administrators is providing temporary blanket relief for market participants from certain regulatory filings, as a result of COVID-19, as announced by the Ontario Securities Commission.
For information on the status of tribunals (Consent and Capacity Board, Landlord and Tenant Board etc.) see this handy list from the Ontario Bar Association.
3. GUIDANCE FROM THE LAW SOCIETY OF ONTARIO
The LSO has provided regular updates on its website under: COVID-19 Response. Of note, until further notice, the LSO is allowing lawyers and paralegals to verify the identity of their client via video conference. This will be in compliance with By-Law 7.1. Further, commissioning of affidavits may also be completed via video conference. See the LSO website for more details.
Also, for any lawyer or paralegal who has not paid their 2020 annual fee yet, the late payment fee will not be applied before April 6, 2020. The filing deadline for lawyers and paralegals to file their 2019 Annual Report is still March 31, 2020, however, you may file during the 60-day default period (ending May 30) without penalty.
4. GUIDANCE FROM LAW AND BAR ASSOCIATIONS
Several associations and organizations have also prepared helpful guidance and tips to assist lawyers during this time:
Ontario Bar Association: COVID-19 Action Plan and Tips for Lawyer Wellness.
Canadian Bar Association: Statement on COVID-19
The Advocates Society: COVID-19 Update
Toronto Lawyers Association: TLA Response to COVID-19
LawPro: Response to COVID-19
Federation of Law Societies of Ontario: Special Edition Real Estate Lawyers Update and Weekly Update (April 1, 2020).
Criminal Lawyers Association: COVID-19 Blog Articles
Ontario Family Lawyers: Public Facebook Group - To share ideas and concerns.
Also, we remain open to assist lawyers and law firms with your overflow legal work. We are pros at remote working and there has been no interruption in our services. Please reach out to let us know how we can assist you.
Stay healthy and safe everyone! Check back here often as we will be updating this post regularly. This is current as of March 30, 2020 at 8:00am.
Do some days just fly by and you feel like you worked all day but got nothing done? Do you wake up and realize that it’s Friday and you didn’t accomplish half the stuff you were supposed to that week? I’ve been there! I understand how hectic running a law practice and a business can be. Below are 5 of my top productivity tips for busy lawyers:
1.Lists, Lists, Lists
Lists are not for everyone, but for some they can be a lifesaver. I have a main list of my open files and the next steps to take on them. Then on Monday morning of each week, I set my weekly "To-Do" list, divided into four parts:
1) My legal work (priority files, next steps)
2) My business work (marketing, admin, blog writing)
3) My volunteer work (meetings, next events to organize) and
4) Personal List (birthday presents to buy, class trip forms to return, house maintenance, etc.).
Under each list, the most important task goes first. Prioritize those tasks. Emergencies come up that might take you away from your list, but once they are dealt with you have your list of tasks (in order of priority) to ground you. If an item does not get done that week, I add it to the list the following week. If a task is not on the list, I forget about it, and it doesn’t get done. So, for me, my lists are all important.
2.Find Your Most Productive Time and Respect It
I belong to a business book club for women entrepreneurs. One of the first books we read was The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey. The main takeaway for me was to find the time of day that I was most productive and to block off that time for work only. For me, I am most productive between 7am-11am and then again between 1pm-3pm. I block that time off for the work that requires my strict attention and my deep-thinking skills. The rest of the time I schedule my phone calls, meetings, answer emails, take a break, exercise, eat, do routine tasks, admin, etc. Everyone has different times for their peak productivity – when is that for you?
3.Give up Perfectionism
This is a hard one for me. I desire perfection. However, perfection is a myth that cannot be achieved in law and this quest for perfection hurts my productivity. I end up spending a lot longer on a factum or pleading or legal opinion than I need to, leaving less time for other important tasks on my list, and I cannot bill for that extra time spent. As Lorne Michaels from Saturday Night Live said: “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.” It helps when I set a deadline or time limit for my work.
4. Say “No” When You Need To
I wrote a blog post on my personal website called “Building a Legal Practice: Say “Yes” Until it is Time to Say “No”” I’ve learned that it is important to say “yes” to new opportunities to build your brand, bring in clients, increase business, but you must be careful of burnout. Be selective of the files you take on, the volunteer opportunities, the speaking engagements, etc. Is the opportunity one that you are excited about? One that brings in some money? Or, one that will help build your personal brand? Assess the opportunity before you say “yes” and add another thing to your to-do list.
5.Delegate, delegate, delegate.
Are you doing admin tasks that are taking you away from your legal practice? Is there a part of your client in-take process that can be automated? Are there routine steps that a junior lawyer or law clerk can do to free up your time? I understand why lawyers feel like they must do everything (they are ultimately responsible for their law practice), but you are the billing lawyer. You are making the money. You should not spend the majority of your time doing non-billable work. Have your assistant answer the phones or outsource this to a call service, automate your intake process or automate your social media posts, consider outsourcing any overflow legal work to freelance lawyers…there are so many ways to free up your time so you can focus on the work that you really want to do!
What are your productivity hacks?
Civil litigators in Ontario should be aware of amendments to both Rule 76 Simplified Procedure claims and claims brought in Small Claims Court which came into effect on January 1, 2020.
1. Simplified Procedure Changes
The limit for claims brought under the Simplified Procedure rule has now been increased to $200,000 from the previous $100,000 limit which had been in place since 2010.
According to the Ministry of the Attorney General, “[t]his change will require more people to file claims under the Simplified Procedure rule, reducing the cost of resolving disputes to families, businesses and taxpayers.”
Other amendments include:
The Ministry of the Attorney General has also provided a helpful Fact Sheet regarding the amendments and has developed simple flowcharts illustrating the processes under the Rules of Civil Procedure.
2. Small Claims Court
The Small Claims Court limit has been raised to $35,000 from the previous $25,000. Also, the minimum amount of a claim that may be appealed to Divisional Court was increased from $2,500 to $3,500.
Have you already started a claim in Superior Court that now fits under the new Small Claims Court threshold? Don’t worry litigants can seek to transfer their case to Small Claims Court.
According to the Ministry of the Attorney General the increase in the limit is to make it “faster, easier and more affordable for people and businesses to resolve their disputes in front of a judge”.
As there will likely be an increase in claims at the Small Claims Court, hopefully there will be a corresponding increase in the number of deputy judges available to decide these disputes. Perhaps now is a good time to apply to become a deputy judge if you are interested. According to the Ontario Courts website to become a deputy judge:
Interested lawyers with a minimum of 10 years’ experience may write to the Regional Senior Judge of the region in which they wish to preside. To prevent court scheduling conflicts, applicants may apply to one region only. Please provide a letter of interest, curriculum vitae and references. Applicants must be members in good standing of the Law Society of Ontario, have no outstanding liability claims relating to the practice of law and no criminal record.
Some effort is being made to modernize our courts through a new pilot project launched on February 11, 2019 for all matters on the Commercial List in Toronto.
All parties and counsel will be required to use the assigned “Digital Hearing Workspace” to deliver documents electronically to the judicial officer and other parties or counsel in the matter. If the parties fail to electronically upload documents using the workspace, the presiding judicial official may “address” such failure (no specifics were given as to the consequences of not uploading).
What is a Digital Hearing Workspace?
It is NOT a court filing service. It is a document sharing service or online document management platform. So, documents shared in the workspace must still be filed in accordance with the Rules of Civil Procedure and applicable practice directions.
The pilot is intended to replace electronic delivery by email, USB Key and CD-ROM (people still use those?) The goal for the project is to “make delivering, storing, organizing and retrieving documents filed in Commercial List proceedings easier for the parties, counsel, judicial officials and court staff involved in these matters.”
Where do you access the Digital Hearing Workspace?
If you are counsel or a self-represented individual, you will be assigned to a Digital Hearing Workspace for your case. You will be sent an email requesting you to register for the workspace. Court staff must approve your registration before you can access it.
For step by step instructions on how to access the workspace, upload documents, view documents, etc. see the “Digital Hearing Workspace User Guide”, which has helpful graphics as well.
It is important to note that the file name of documents uploaded to the Digital Hearing Workspace must follow the naming convention outline in the “Guide Concerning e-Delivery of Documents in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice”.
Once the case has been disposed of by a final decision, the workspace will be closed and users will no longer have access.
For more information see the Practice Advisory Concerning Electronic Documents in Commercial List Proceedings, dated February 11, 2019, which supplements the Consolidated Practice Direction Concerning the Commercial List, dated July 1, 2014. Counsel and parties are also advised to review the relevant parts of the Consolidated Provincial Practice Direction and any other applicable Toronto Region-Specific practice directions or guides (this seems like a lot of practice directions to us – one consolidated document/practice direction might work better?)
How helpful do you think this pilot project will be? It is great to see some movement toward modernizing our court system. We look forward to more developments in this area.
Photo by Andras Vas on Unsplash
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