We all know that legal fees can be expensive. Most of the time you will understand your lawyer’s fees and will be comfortable to pay the bill. Sometimes, however, the client is not happy and there may be different reasons why a client can be unhappy with lawyer fees.
In this article, we want to provide you with a few options of what you can do to resolve any issues that you may have with your legal bill. Be aware that there are time limits that apply to certain actions in relation to legal costs. Make sure that you familiarize yourself with these limits and adhere to them. It is also important to note that this information about the Legal Profession Act - New South Wales applies only in Family Court matters in the following circumstances:
If you are not happy with your bill, discuss it with your lawyer. Most clients resolve their concerns about the legal fees by simply discussing it with their lawyers. You can even discuss this before receiving your bill. If your lawyer understands your concerns, he or she may agree to review the fees.
Usually, your legal bill will give you a total amount that is due for the work. The work done by your lawyer will be summarised. You are however entitled to ask for an itemized bill that lists each item of work done and the amount charged for each item. By reviewing each item you can work out which parts of the legal costs you are unhappy about. Your lawyer may not charge you for preparing an itemised bill.
Take note, that the total amount of the bill may increase once each aspect of the work is itemized.
If you are not happy with the outcome of your discussions with your lawyer about the legal fees, you have the option of independent mediation. You can discuss your concerns with the assistance of an independent facilitator. Cost mediation can be formal or informal. The mediator cannot give you legal advice and cannot decide whether the costs were fair or reasonable. But mediation is normally cheaper and quicker than Cost Assessment.
Cost assessment is a process where an independent court-appointed person would assess your bill and your objections to it. The assessor can decide what is a fair and reasonable amount for you to pay.
You must apply for a cost assessment within 12 months from receiving your bill or receiving a request to pay the bill, or from when you paid the bill. The Supreme Court of NSW can grant you an extension, but will only do so in special circumstances.
Take note: You can apply for a cost assessment even if you have paid all or part of your legal costs. This applies even if you paid without receiving a bill.
You have to pay a fee for applying for a cost assessment. However, if your bill is reduced by 15% or more, your lawyer may be required to pay the costs of the assessment; or if your lawyer did not disclose costs properly.
If you want more information on how to apply for a cost assessment, contact the Supreme Court Costs Assessment Scheme.
If you feel that your cost agreement is unfair or unreasonable, you can apply to a costs assessor to set it aside. The entire agreement can be set aside or just a part of it. Once it is set aside, the cost assessor will decide on the actual costs that are payable.
If none of the options mentioned above feels appropriate to you, there may be other ways to resolve your concerns about your legal bill. Speak with a lawyer to discuss your options.
If you fail to pay your bill, your lawyer may take you to court. However, your lawyer can only start with legal action against you 30 days after giving you the bill. If you have requested an itemised bill, then he or she can only start with legal action against you 30 days after giving you the itemised bill. Your lawyer may not start with legal action against you during a cost assessment process.
We hope that the information we provide in this article will assist you to choose the best option for your particular circumstances. If you need more information, you can contact:
Legal profession regulators – cost mediation and assessments
Ph: (02) 9377 1800
Freecall: 1800 242 958
Ph: (02) 9926 0333
Ph: (02) 9230 8111
Legal and procedural advice – get free legal advice from the following organisations
Telephone and internet legal advice service.
Ph: 1300 888 529 or http://www.lawaccess.nsw.gov.au
A list of CLCs in your area is available by calling:
Ph: (02) 9318 2355 or www.nswclc.org.au
If you need face-to-face advice after you have spoken to LawAccess go to www.legalaid.nsw.gov
If your lawyer has initiated action to recover outstanding costs, you can contact your Local Court Chamber Registrar for advice about your Local Court procedure.