While the majority of workers in the legal industry will deal with clients in an ethical manner, there are those who might take advantage of their clients. The average person relies heavily on the expertise and skills of their lawyer, to make sure that they do not wind up in serious legal trouble. They also depend on their lawyers to disclose costs, and deal with them fairly regarding fees. Since the costs for legal matters can become exceedingly high, there are laws in place to protect clients.
These laws are intended to allow sanctions against any lawyers who charge overly high fees. Costs are also able to be reviewed by independent bodies. Under some circumstances, agreements regarding costs can even be set aside.
Overview of Costs Disclosure Requirements
When starting a professional relationship with a legal representative, it is best to get the retainer in writing. This serves as the work contract, but it is not a prerequisite. However, ensuring that you do get it in writing is a smart idea. This will allow future costs to be compared to what the lawyer claimed they would be in the beginning.
There are a lot of instances in Australia where lawyers are required to inform clients, in writing, about future costs. This can include the following pieces of information:
- An estimate as to what the legal costs might be in total.
- What rights the client has to negotiate the fees, be notified of any notable changes in the fees, and to be given a bill with itemised costs. They can also request reports detailing the matter’s progress.
- Explanations about how the costs were worked out.
- Should legal proceedings take place, an estimate of costs relating to succeeding or failing.
- Disclosure before the matter is settled.
- Disclosure about the client’s access to legal aid, in regards to the current matter.
There is an exception when the total costs are below the threshold of $750, not including disbursements. Unless the costs have, or are expected, to exceed this amount, a lawyer does not have to disclose costs. If the client was given two or more disclosures in the prior year, they have chosen to waive their right to receive disclosures, or the lawyer is not asking for pay, there might be exceptions to the above requirements.
In order to apply for an assessment of your lawyer’s costs, you must do so within one year. This time starts when the bill is received, or when payment has been requested. It can also start after you have paid the costs, should you wish to have those costs reviewed.
Costs Assessment Scheme
If you think that you were overcharged by your lawyer, you can apply to have the bill assessed. The Costs Assessment Scheme is used to make sure that legal fees were reasonable, and comparative to the amount, and type, of work carried out. The work must have also been done in a reasonable amount of time.