Legal costs and fees - your right to know
If you go to a solicitor for legal advice, they must explain their costs to you.
How much your solicitor charges must be fair, reasonable and proportionate to the work they will need to do to resolve your issue. While your solicitor can give you an estimate of the cost of the work, be aware that you always have a right to negotiate an agreement with them about the costs you’ll be charged.
Under new laws in Victoria, solicitors have a greater responsibility to make sure you understand and agree to the estimated legal costs for their services. How much information they must give you about their charges depends on the estimated cost involved.
Under $750 (excluding GST)
Your solicitor isn’t required to give you a breakdown of costs if your costs are estimated to be under $750. But it’s a good idea to ask for progress reports along the way so you’re aware of any risk of your bill ending up being more than $750.
Between $750 and $3000 (excluding GST)
If your legal costs are estimated to be between $750 and $3,000, your solicitor must let you know in writing the estimated costs of their legal work for you. They can use a short, 'standard costs disclosure form' to do this. The form provides information about the legal work they’ll be doing and an estimate of the total cost of their legal services.
Over $3000 (excluding GST)
If your costs are estimated to be over $3,000, your solicitor must give you a more detailed written breakdown of them, including how the legal fees will be calculated. They must also let you know about your right to negotiate a costs agreement with them instead, as well as how you will be billed for the work. Finally, they have to tell you of the right to seek assistance from the Legal Services Commissioner if you have a dispute about the costs.
Be aware that your solicitor’s legal fees don’t include ‘disbursements’, which are payments your solicitor makes on your behalf, such as court application costs.
How to dispute your legal costs
If you have an issue with your legal costs, talk to your solicitor first and see if you can sort out the issue. If this doesn’t work, complaints about legal costs can be lodged with the Legal Services Board + Commissioner. These can be made verbally or in writing, and must be made within 60 days after the legal costs were made payable. If your bill is itemised, you only have 30 days to lodge a complaint.
Tips to avoid a dispute
So there are no surprises, when you first meet with a lawyer you should find out what their fees are and how they charge.
It’s a good idea to try and talk to your lawyer directly about concerns, as you may be able to resolve the issue without making a complaint. You can contact the Victorian Legal Services Board + Commissioner for advice on how to go about this.
Find out more about legal costs and what to ask your lawyer
This information relates to laws in Victoria, Australia.