Balancing the bill with some justice

CHOICE wants consumers to be more aware of their rights to help avoid being overcharged by lawyers, and, if they feel they have been ripped off, to know who to complain to try and resolve the issue.

Complaints about legal fees and overbilling remain widespread despite consumers being able to ask solicitors at the outset for a costs agreement, which should summarise and itemise their proposed services.

CHOICE says under most states’ Legal Professions Acts solicitors are legally obliged to disclose costs such as their hourly rate and expenses such as photocopying, before they are retained. Not doing so can amount to professional misconduct.

But experts say it’s the lack of awareness by consumers about their rights that results in a substantial number of cases where individuals feel they have been overcharged.

One solicitor charged $750 for typing a three-page document and $40 for receiving a message to return a phone call! A CHOICE member told how the costs of a simple action escalated from $600 to $1800 because of email and telephone charges.

There are 55 bodies that regulate the legal profession across all state jurisdictions but there are plans to reform the system by bringing it under a national body. In the meantime, complaints about overcharging should go to state bodies such as the relevant Legal Services Commissioner or Legal Practitioners Conduct Board.

“If you believe you have been overcharged check you have a costs agreement and itemised bill then work out the items in dispute. Talking to your solicitor about costs at the outset remains the most effective strategy against avoiding a rude shock when you receive your bill,” said CHOICE spokesman Christopher Zinn.

Preventative action recommended by CHOICE includes:

  • being wary of so-called free visits which you can be charged for after a certain duration or when advice is given
  • don’t assume a solicitor who is a friend will give a good deal — formalise the arrangement before proceeding
  • knowing your rights and being realistic about your chances of winning

Want to know more?

See the CHOICE article

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When you need to see a solicitor, how do you know if you’ve been overcharged – and what can you do about it?

11 Aug 2009 | CHOICE outlines what you can do to minimise the risk of legal overcharging and the steps to take if you suspect you’ve been ripped off.

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