The death of Jack Cewe, a BC businessman, occasioned litigation to set aside three new wills and two trust deeds he had made in favour of his secretray-cum-girlfriend. Cewe's granddaughter Kirsten Mide-Wilson retained Hungerford Tomyn Lawrenson and Nichols (HTLN) to act for her on a contingency fee. The HLTN lawyers were to receive 20% of any settlement that was made before a certain date. That condition was met, and Mide-Wilson received $75 million under the terms of the settlement. HTLN billed $19 million (including costs of $16 million). Mide-Wilson challenged the account. The registrar found that the fee arrangement was fair and reasonable, but allowed a lower fee of $9 million. The lawyers were quite happy with that outcome; Mide-Wilson not so much (as they say).
The BC Supreme Court heard Mide-Wilson's appeal but agreed with the registrar that the fee arrangement was fair and reasonable in the circumstances: Mide-Wilson v Hungerford Tomyn Lawrenson and Nichols, 2013 BCSC 374. Mide-Wilson was an experienced woman of business, had been advised by counsel and had spent a week-end considering the terms of the deal proposed by HTLN. There were no capacity issues or signs of undue influence. Goepel J did disagree about the value of the assets and, as a result, the appropriate fee for HTLN: even though the lawyers provided valuable services to their client, $9 million was too much and threatened the integrity of the profession. A figure of $5 million was more like it. In the words of the judge, 'A contingency fee arrangement is not a lottery ticket. Success in the action does not guarantee a fee in the amount set out in the agreement', which is always subject to the court's review to ensure it is fair and reasonable and arrives at a 'proper' fee.