Legal billing - don't get a raw deal

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

What is the basis of legal costs and expenses?

Different jurisdictions across Australia have different methods of calculating costs. The most common scenario is that the consumer pays all legal fees and expenses regardless of the outcome. But under a conditional costs agreement (no win, no fees), you pay only if your case is successful. Be sure to ask what a “successful outcome” means in such an agreement, how much you may have pay in fees from your award when you win, and how much in legal expenses, such as photocopying bills, you may also have to pay.

Will the costs be time- or scale-based?

Time-based costs are charged on an hourly rate, while scale-based costing relies on each state court’s scale – a standard list of charges for various legal expenses and tasks performed by a solicitor. In NSW, for example, probate (deceased estate) and family law matters are based on a scale of costs set out by the courts.

How and when will you be billed?

You can ask for a bill itemising how often you will be charged, any interest that may be charged on overdue bills and whether this rate is fixed or variable. What are the estimated total legal costs and expenses? You can ask for an explanation of the possible major events that may escalate costs, such as a counterclaim by the other party or new evidence.

Who else will be involved in your case?

Fees may multiply as more legal professionals become involved, such as additional junior or senior solicitors or barristers. However, if your case looks like it might end up in court, it may be worthwhile consulting a barrister as soon as possible through your solicitor.

Victorian barrister Maryanne Loughnan SC says that because barristers are constantly in court they are able to advise clients on the likely outcomes should a dispute go to court. Along with the solicitor, they can also provide a rough estimate of the costs of a full court case. Ask if your case is to be handled solely by your solicitor and, if not, how much you’ll be charged if a barrister is engaged. This will enable you to decide whether or not you wish to get involved in a court case.


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