Volunteers wanted for fee mediation roster

No lawyer wants to end up in a dispute with a client over fees. Thankfully there are some time-tested practices to build a common understanding about fees — discussing fees at the beginning of a retainer, asking clients to enter into fee agreements and billing for legal services promptly.

But what if a legal bill becomes a point of controversy regardless, and both lawyer and client find themselves at an impasse? That is where the Law Society’s fee mediation program comes in.

Fee mediation is an accessible and informal alternative to fee review before a registrar. Mediation can be requested by either a lawyer or client, but it will go forward only if both agree to participate. The success of each mediation depends on the engagement of the participants and the help of volunteer lawyers. That is were you come in.

If you are a BC lawyer who has experience in mediation, and you would like to make a contribution to the profession, consider volunteering for the fee mediation roster. The Law Society receives a modest number of requests for mediation each year, but it strives to fulfil those requests quickly, so having an active roster is important. The Society selects a small number of lawyer-mediators for the roster, as well as some non-lawyers who are members of the BC Mediator Roster Society or equivalent body. If you would like to be considered, please let us know.

In brief, here is how the program works.

Fee mediation – how is one requested?

Either a lawyer or client who is in a fee dispute can request a mediation by completing and submitting an application to the Law Society. After checking to see if both are agreeable to mediation, the Society appoints an independent, neutral mediator from its roster. Mediators are volunteers and receive a very small honorarium from the Society, along with reimbursement of reasonable expenses. The views of the lawyer and client who participate in the mediation are taken into consideration on selection of the mediator.

What does the mediator do?

Once appointed, a mediator independently contacts the lawyer and client to arrange a mediation of up to three hours. The form of mediation — such as a face-to-face discussion or a telephone meeting — is up to the mediator and participants. The mediator encourages a lawyer and client to explore their interests, develop and consider potential options for resolution based on those interests and try to reach a mutually agreeable resolution.

The mediation is on a “without prejudice” basis. Any negotiations during the fee mediation process cannot be used in evidence in any subsequent proceedings, including a court proceeding or fee review by a registrar of the Supreme Court of BC.

Participation in the fee mediation program is entirely voluntary. Neither the client nor the lawyer is in any way obliged to opt in and either can withdraw from the mediation at any time.

Because the results of a fee mediation are not binding on the parties, fee review remains an option after fee mediation if either party wishes to pursue it, provided the matter has not been settled and the time limit for applying for the review has not expired. The fee mediation service is only available if the fees have not already been subject to a fee review.

How do mediators offer to join the roster?

If you would like to be considered for the fee mediation roster, please send an expression of interest and a summary of your background experience to Lynne Knights, Complaints Officer, at the Law Society office (see page 2) or by email to lknights@lsbc.org.