Ten questions to ask about legal costs

In 2013, the Legal Services Commission published a document aimed at consumers to encourage them to raise the issue of legal costs with lawyers and be better informed about the basis upon which you will engage (and pay for) a lawyer.

Here is a link to the publication ‘Ten questions to ask your lawyer about costs‘ if you would like to read the document in full.

We have provided our answers to those question below to be as upfront, transparent and open about our legal costs and how we charge our clients.

Q1. “Will I be charged for a consultation?”
Yes. We offer a no obligation initial consultation for all new enquiries we receive. Take a look at our dedicated page regarding what to expect at that first consultation.

If, after our first consultation, you engage us, then we will charge you for any telephone calls or face-to-face meetings we are engaged in when providing you with our legal services.

Q2. “How do you cost your service?”
Because we focus on civil litigation, almost all matters that present to us are different in some way or another. It could be a difference in facts, a difference in monetary amount, or a difference in attitudes of the parties involved. Each difference might require further work or attention that might add to the costs incurred.

As such, it is always difficult to provide very accurate estimates, but we strive to be as accurate as possible from the outset. When giving estimates, we consider the complexity or simplicity of the legal claim and monetary amount being argued over.

We do have regard to the legal costs that might be recoverable if the claim (or defence) is successful and how best to ensure that the smallest gap between a client’s recoverable and unrecoverable costs can be shortened.

We hope to provide basis estimates of costs during our first consultation.

Q3. “Can you tell me more about the way you charge?”
We have a standard hourly rate for legal work we undertake and will charge on time basis at 6-minute intervals of the work we perform on your behalf.

Give us a call to find out what that hourly charge is as it may change if we publish it here.

For some matters, we provide a fixed fee service for certain items of work that we may carry out. For instance: we will generally give you a fixed fee for taking your instructions and issuing the first letter we send to the other party.

Any remaining work is then charged on a time-basis and performed in the most efficient manner we can. For example, we will generally charge you for reading an email communication and responding to it at the same time, such that it attracts only one portion of time.

We do not charge uplift fees and do not take matters on a ‘No Win No Fee’ basis.

Q4. “What is a fixed fee and what does it cover? Will I be charged for any other costs?”
If we provide a fixed fee to you it will cover everything required by us to achieve that particular item of work that we offer to do on a fixed fee basis.

Any additional charges might relate to third-party costs that might need to be incurred (Court Fees, Courier Costs) and these would be discussed and agreed beforehand.

Q5. “You charge an hourly rate, but I’d like an estimate for the cost of the whole service. What will my final bill look like?”
We will always provide you with an estimate of the legal fees you will incur regarding your matter. Of course, it is very difficult to provide very accurate estimates and in some cases, there may be a need to update the estimate as we progress with a matter.

If that is required, we provide you with an updated estimate of the fees as soon as we can after we realise our initial estimate may have been too low and we provide you the reason why our initial estimate might be exceeded.

Usually, the reasons for the need to update an initial estimate are because of new legal issues that have been raised during the dispute that were not anticipated, or the conduct of your opponent is such that it requires a greater level of service than could have been anticipated.

Your final bill you receive should not be a ‘shock’ to you and should not contain a level of charges that you were not prepared for or could have anticipated.

Q6. “Could my costs change? How will you let me know if they do?”
Any estimate of fees is merely an estimate and is subject to change if the circumstances of our retainer and the work required ventures outside what we might have reasonably anticipated at the outset of your matter.

You should understand that our initial estimates are usually given at the very outset of your dispute. We use our experience of dealing with other matters to provide you with the best and most realistic estimate of legal fees we can at the time, using your first instructions and information that you provide to us.

Should some of that information change or new information come to light that substantially changes the direction or course of the claim, then your costs may change as a result.

Equally, if your matter turns out to be simple and is not as time consuming as first thought, your legal costs will be lower than estimated by us.

We will let you know, in writing, that we anticipate your estimated legal fees will increase and that will be done as soon as we can after we realise our initial estimate may have been too low, and we will provide you the reasons why our initial estimate might be exceeded.

Q7. “Are there any extra costs?”
We have a standard hourly rate for legal work we undertake and any fee we quote to you will be inclusive of GST, unless we specifically state otherwise.

Our hourly rate includes all costs, expenses or fees that may be charged to us, as a business, to provide our own services to clients. That is, we do not charge you for printing, photocopying, basic postal services, telephone charges, which are often referred to as ‘postage and petties’ or ‘sundries’.

If we engage the services of a barrister, expert, process server or other consultant on your behalf then you will be charged the costs of those 3rd party services, at cost.

You will also need to reimburse us for any court fees, charges or expenses that may be payable to the Court or Tribunal as may be necessary, or any searches we may need to perform (ASIC, Bankruptcy, Property, etc), at cost.

We will inform you of these fees (or an estimate of them) before they are incurred by us.

Q8. “Can I get help with the cost of my legal services?”
If you are unable to afford a lawyer, then you may be able to obtain help from Legal Aid Queensland for advice and they provide funding for certain Civil Law Claims that meet their funding criteria.

Visit Legal Aid Queensland or give them a call on 1300 65 11 88 to obtain more information about Legal Aid.

Please note that we are not a legal aid service provider.

You may also wish to contact a local community legal service centre to obtain some free legal advice and information.

The Sunshine Coast is served by the Suncoast Community Legal Service and they can be contacted on 07 5443 7827 for an appointment at one of their centres in Maroochydore, Caloundra, Landsborough, Noosa, Pomona, Maleny or Nambour.

For the rest of Queensland, visit Community Legal Centres Queensland to find your nearest service.

Q9. “When will I be billed and how long will I have to pay? Do you offer payment options?”
We do not have a set time period in which we bill every client as each matter we take on is unique.

Instead, we bill our clients periodically and generally in line with major steps taken to advance the claim or major events that might be occurring along the way.

Our standard billing terms are seven (7) days for payment of our bills. Interest may be charged if payment is not made within those terms of payment.

We do not normally offer any deferred payment terms and prefer that we hold monies in advance as security for your fees, expenses and disbursements within our trust account. In some cases, we must insist on holding monies in our trust account as security.

Q10. “What happens if I disagree with the amount I’ve been charged?”
We try and provide every client with a service that they consider valuable and worthwhile and certainly hope never to receive a complaint about the amount of fees we have charged.

However, if you are not happy then we would encourage you to speak to us or email us and express your disappointment in the fees charged.

We would be happy to review our bills and your reasons for complaint and see if we can address your concerns or come to some amicable resolution of your complaint.

If you remain unsatisfied then ask us for an ‘itemised bill’ for the item of work or invoice you dispute, and we will provide one to you.

If you remain dissatisfied, then you have a right to challenge our legal costs by having an independent cost assessor evaluate the charges through a process of cost assessment and an application to the Court.

For more information on that process see the information brochure produced by the Legal Services Commission entitled ‘Your Right to Challenge Legal Costs‘.

Lastly, if you believe we have not acted appropriately towards you then you can make a complaint about our conduct to the Legal Services Commission to assist you in redressing your complaint. They can be contacted on 1300 655 754 or visit them at www.lsc.qld.gov.au.

DISCLAIMER: The above article was written at a specific point in time in the past and is provided as general guidance only. It is not intended to be specific legal advice to any person’s particular circumstances who may be reading it. We do not recommend you use this article as a replacement for obtaining proper legal advice on your issue and encourage anyone reading the article to obtain legal advice to ensure the above information and guidance remains valid and suits your particular circumstance. In our experience, there is no ‘one size fits all’ to legal problems!