This is probably what keeps a lot of people from getting legal advice – fear about legal fees.
It’s still a bit of a misperception that legal fees are excessive. You can find lawyers that are not, and when you compare them to other service providers, they’re often cheaper.
There are lawyers still that will gouge, but this is about how to avoid those lawyers.
When you think about other service providers – tradies, surveyors, town planners, architects, real estate agents, for example – their fees are often significantly higher than what a lawyer would charge.
So the fear is probably hanging on from a couple of decades ago, when legal fees were usually way out of proportion.
Whereas over the last decade, for sure, the demand for cheaper and more efficient legal fees and services have meant that legal fees really have not gone up. And in fact have come down in may cases.
A lot of this comes back to asking the right questions when you initially have appointments with lawyers
You should, in your initial appointment, ask how a lawyer charges?
Or you can ask their office, when you call up the office, before even making the appointment.
If the lawyer charges a fixed fee service for whatever they do, the person who answers the phone should either tell you that it’ll be fixed fee and the lawyer will be able to tell you what it is in the first appointment, or they will actually tell you what the fixed fee is for the first step.
A lawyer can also charge in accordance with their scale of costs, which means that the Court actually sets out the rates for certain things. And the lawyer has to stick to those.
A lawyer can also charge by an hourly rate. If they charge by an hourly rate, they need to give you an estimate. You should get a range in which your legal fees should come within. If for some reason the scope of the work changes, the lawyer has to give you an updated estimate.
You, as a consumer, are entitled to ask for these things.
In fact, lawyers are required to provide you with a Cost Agreement. If you don’t get a cost agreement, you go elsewhere.
It’s similar to engaging, for example, a mechanic or a plumber or someone to service your air-con or whatever you would get quotes up front. And if you’re not happy with the quote, you’d get another one.
Do the same with lawyers.
You shouldn’t necessarily treat them any differently just because it’s a professional service. It’s still a service that they are providing and they have to provide that service with due care.
They’re required to give you a Cost Agreement, to give you a quote, to update the scope, if the scope changes and update the quote if it changes.
What else can you ask about?
You could ask for monthly invoices, to stay on top of the fees. Many lawyers will allow this.
You could ask if you can pay by instalments upfront, or as you go. Many lawyers are happy for this.
You could ask if you can pay a lump sum at the end. Some lawyers are happy to work this way, depending on the type of matter.
When you get an invoice, you can also ask to see an itemised invoice, to check what you’re getting charged for.
The other thing to check as well, when you go through your Cost Agreement, is to look to see whether there’s any hidden fees and expenses.
Make sure the quote includes GST and disbursements.
Do they charge for photocopying and postage?
Some lawyers hide these when they give a verbal quote.
This is part of finding the right lawyer, having your initial appointments and asking these questions early on.
Make sure you do that.
And as I’ve said before, you can change lawyers part way through a matter.