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This practice is not uncommon and it is actually legal pursuant to the Nova Scotia rules that govern lawyers. Specifically, Rule 11.13 deals with this issue (known as a "solicitor's lien), and states:
11.13 Where upon the discharge or withdrawal of the lawyer the question of a right of lien for unpaid fees and disbursements arises, the lawyer has a duty to duly regard the effect of its enforcement upon the client's position. Generally speaking, the lawyer has a duty not to enforce the lien if enforcement of the lien would materially prejudice the client's position in any uncompleted matter. A lawyer does not have a right of lien on a client's property entrusted to the lawyer in one matter with respect to unpaid fees or disbursements in another matter.
So although it is a strict action by the previous lawyer, it is permissible. Hopefully that answers your question.
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