Detailed notes help vindicate lawyer in fee dispute

Well-known veteran lawyer George Walker says he has been vindicated following the release of an Ontario’s Superior Court ruling in a lengthy battle against a former client seeking to assess the lawyer’s accounts.

“Counsel can never be too careful in documenting instructions received from a client or steps taken on a client’s behalf,” says Walker, a 45-year veteran of law and certified criminal law specialist who once represented Karla Homolka.

Earlier this week Superior Court Justice Catrina Braid released her decision in Tsigirlash v. Walker, dismissing a former client’s efforts to assess Walker’s accounts.

The client, George Tsigirlash, made allegations in late 2013 that he had paid Walker a $20,000 cash retainer as well as disputing total fees of a little more than $61,000. He also alleged Walker did not follow instructions.

Tsigirlash, who could not be reached for comment prior to posting, had retained Walker in 2006 on some criminal matters and again in 2011, when he was charged in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., with a series of fraud and possession of stolen property charges related to an alleged automobile “chop shop” there.

Tsigirlash claims Walker had approached him in a courthouse hallway suggesting Tsigirlash should hire him, saying “I am the man for you.” Tsigirlash told the court Walker wanted the $20,000 retainer in cash so police would be less likely to take the money as proceeds of crime.

Walker, through his counsel Robert Macdonald, an associate with Fogler Rubinoff, argued he never received a cash retainer and that the fees were reasonable for a highly complex matter involving more than 40 total charges of fraud and possession of stolen property.

“In my 45 years of practice, I have never had an account assessed or faced allegations of impropriety from a client,” says Walker. “I’m pleased that the court rejected Mr. Tsigirlash’s malicious and false allegations.”

The client did pay down the bulk of the fees and first raised concerns about the accounts four months after the final of six accounts had been sent to the client, well after the retainer had ended.

“I have carefully considered the evidence of Tsigirlash. In my view, his evidence was self-serving, contradictory, illogical and wholly unreliable,” Braid wrote in her decision.

“Walker was cross-examined regarding hours billed and the tasks completed,” the judge added. “Walker relied on detailed notes of his work when explaining the accounts and was able to justify and explain the time entries.”

Macdonald says the matter should serve as a strong caution to lawyers to ensure proper detailed notes of all actions taken on behalf of a client as well as strong financial accounting.

“What assisted Mr. Walker in this case was that his file was well documented,” Macdonald says. “None of us can anticipate that we’re going to face these sorts of malicious and false allegations from a client, but if it does happen you want to have your file there to substantiate the work you did, the instructions that you took and the information the client had when they gave you those instructions.”

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