IBA Calls for Reforms to Protect Indigenous Clients

The Indigenous Bar Association (IBA) is calling for changes to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada’s model code of professional conduct to prevent lawyers from exploiting Indigenous clients.

A recent article published by CBA National discussed the power imbalance that exists between Indigenous clients and their legal representatives, resulting in disputes over the hourly fees, retainers and contingency fees charged by lawyers.

Saskatoon lawyer Drew Lafond, who is president of the IBA, told CBA National that the systemic issues facing Indigenous clients have made them vulnerable to exploitation by their legal counsel.

“First Nations are involved in massive, hugely complex legal claims that take years, decades to settle,” Drew said. “And they’re trying to manage these claims while dealing with a backdrop of poverty and colonialization that makes it harder to address these claims, particularly when coping with community demands for basic services.”

Contingency fees – which are charged by lawyers upon the successful resolution of a case – have resulted in Indigenous clients being charged hefty fees for cases that were settled with relative ease.

The IBA is calling for a cap on the maximum percentage lawyers can charge for contingency fees, as well as a standard form for contingency fee arrangements and an outright ban on exorbitant fees “that are not supported by the amount of effort expended on the file.”

In addition, the IBA wants to put an end to dubious charges resulting from retainer agreements – such as clients being billed for work they didn’t ask for or weren’t even aware of.

The IBA has partnered with the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to review and modify the model code of professional conduct. We’ll keep you apprised of further developments.