It’s a scary thing for someone who hasn’t used a lawyer before to talk to a lawyer about their fees, and to work out what a lawyer might charge, and then to keep them accountable to their quote.
Lawyers are a service provider, and you as the consumer are entitled to ask about fees, monitor fees, and uphold a quote.
One of the most important things comes down to choosing the right lawyer in the first place. I’ve done a number of videos on that about how to select the right lawyer, narrow lawyers down, have a look and understand what their fees are upfront. I also have a short course: How to Find and Hire the Right Lawyer.
You should know how a lawyer is charging you from the beginning. At the start, a solicitor has to give you a Cost Agreement. The Cost Agreement has to give a quote or a range for their fees, along with a scope. Sometimes, if it’s based on hourly billing, they have to break down whose hourly rate is what, and who’s going to be acting on what for you.
The Cost Agreement will also tell you what extras they charge for. Some lawyers charge for photocopying. Some lawyers charge for postage. Some don’t.
There are then also other fees that solicitors may have to pay for, for you – these are called ‘disbursements’. Sometimes they have to pay upfront court fees or other search fees, or things like that for you. So those should also be disclosed and you will need to reimburse them for those payments. The Cost Agreement should estimate what those will be, and reveal if they charge a mark-up on disbursements or not.
Throughout a legal matter, you can ask for regular invoices.
At any time you get an invoice, you’re allowed to ask for an itemised invoice, so you can check what’s been done.
If you have any questions about the fees along the way, you’re entitled and able to ask your lawyer about their fees.
If you are unsatisfied with any time, you are able to question the fees.
If you are unsatisfied with how they are billing you, you do not have to stay with the same solicitor.
Don’t beat around the bush. It’s your money and you’re paying them for a service.
But the most crucial thing is to know from the beginning how the solicitor charges and what your cost agreement is. So what the estimate or range is.
If the scope changes and they’re going to exceed their original estimate, they must give you a new Cost Agreement. If they don’t do that, they are at risk of not being able to charge you for that extra work.
You can make complaints to your State regulator. Also, your State Civil and Administrative Tribunal has the jurisdiction to review disputes over legal fees. So there are other ways to have a solicitor’s fees reviewed by external parties, than having to directly argue with the lawyer yourself.
I cover this in far more detail, about the ways solicitors can charge, and what to look for, in my course: How to Find and Hire the Right Lawyer. Because if you find and hire the right lawyer in the first place, you’re going to know what your fees are going to be, and you will not get a shock when the bill comes.