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Legal fees: how much should they cost?

Knowing how much – and how – a lawyer charges can help you avoid a bad experience

lawyers gavel and scales
Rebecca Douglas
Rebecca Douglas
Last updated: 01 August 2018

Whether it's death, divorce or disaster, at some point in your life you'll probably need to hire a lawyer. 

As soon as you hear the word 'lawyer', you might think of sharp suits and expensive legal fees, growing with every email or phone call you receive. But understanding how lawyers in Australia charge will help ensure that if the day comes, you can be more confident you're getting what you pay for.

How much do lawyers cost?


  • A 2015 'uniform law' governs around 70% of lawyers and what they charge.
  • You should be offered a costs agreement upfront.
  • Lawyers' hourly rates commonly range from $350 to $650.
  • What you're charged will depend on a number of factors including the seniority of your lawyer and the size of the firm.

Understanding lawyers' costs agreements


  • Get the costs agreement in writing.
  • The way legal fees are traditionally structured can be tricky for clients to understand.
  • Even when you win at trial you might still be out-of-pocket.
  • Taking a matter to court can easily cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Hourly rates vs fixed price agreements


  • The case of the two-fingered typist.
  • Fixed fee agreements can help to avoid unnecessary charges.
  • Fixed fee agreements are difficult in cases where there is litigation as the process is too uncertain.
  • If not using a fixed fee agreement it's a good idea to ask for frequent invoices.

No win, no fee: is it worth it?


  • These sorts of arrangements are common where the client has a good chance of successful litigation but doesn't have the means to fund the case.
  • The firm might take a larger slice of the payout than usual to compensate for the risk of taking on the case.
  • Even with 'no fee, no win' cases you may still be out of pocket.

Legal aid, pro bono and more affordable legal options


  • State and territory legal aid agencies can provide advice over the phone and help with straightforward matters.
  • Access to legal aid for more complex matters will depend on a number of factors.
  • Other nonprofit community legal centres may also provide help for free or at low cost.
  • Some cut price options may cause problems in the future, so take care.

Contesting the bill


  • First talk to your lawyer.
  • If you can't resolve the issue, there are organisations who can help.
  • Your next step will depend on what state you live in.
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