Different states, different rules
Legal billing grievances are dealt with differently in each state. There are 55 bodies that regulate the legal profession across all the state jurisdictions. However, there are moves to reform the system to bring it under a national regulator. The reforms include uniform rules on lawyers’ trust accounts and costs disclosure, fines for any breaches of provisions adopted and a new regulation under which the principals of law firms — not their solicitors or any other person — would approve bills. The new legislation is expected to be drafted before May 2010.
In the meantime, the following procedures apply in NSW, SA and Victoria.
- In NSW, when consumers make a complaint to the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner, they are recommended for mediation or referred to the NSW Supreme Court for a costs assessor to review and decide upon a fair and reasonable amount of costs for the services provided. There is an application fee of either $100 or 1% of the amount of costs remaining unpaid or in dispute at the time of making the application, whichever is the greater.
- In SA, the Legal Practitioners Conduct Board investigates complaints at no cost to the complainant and has the power to refer gross overcharging to the SA Supreme Court and take disciplinary action against the lawyer. Last financial year, nearly half of all advisory letters the board sent to legal practitioners related to lawyers’ conduct on costs to their clients.
- In Victoria, no application fees are involved but complainants must deposit the amount of disputed and unpaid legal fees into an interest-bearing bank account held by the Legal Services Commissioner before it will deal with the complaint. The deposit may be reduced or waived if it causes undue hardship.
For more information about the complaint process and the fees in your state, see the contacts below.
AUSTRALIA-WIDE Community Legal Centres (CLCs) are independent, non-profit organisations that provide free legal services to the public. To find a CLC in your state, go to www.naclc.org.au
ACT ACT Law Society www.lawsocact.asn.au
NSW Office of the Legal Services Commissioner www.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/olsc
NT Law Society Northern Territory www.lawsocietynt.asn.au
Queensland Legal Services Commission www.lsc.qld.gov.au
SA Legal Practitioners Conduct Board www.legalcomplaints.com.au
Tasmania Law Society of Tasmania www.taslawsociety.asn.au
Victoria Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal www.vcat.vic.gov.au or Legal Services Commissioner (Victoria) www.lsc.vic.gov.au
WA Legal Practice Board of WA www.lpbwa.org.au