Complain about legal costs and bills
This page covers complaints you may have with your legal costs or the bill for your legal matter.
Act quickly on complaints
The law imposes time limits on making a complaint about your legal costs or a lawyer’s bill.
- 30 days for itemised bills from the date you received the bill.
- 60 days for lump sum bills from the date you received your bill.
If you are unhappy about your legal costs or a bill, you should act on it quickly. Your lawyer can sue you over an unpaid bill after 30 days. We cannot help you if you have been sued.
What can you do?
You can talk directly to your lawyer about your concerns. Many problems can be quickly fixed this way.
You can also call or email us to discuss making a complaint.
Tel: 1300 796 344
If you prefer, you can come in and discuss your concerns with us in person.
If your bill is older than the time limits, we may be able to extend the timeframe, but only if certain circumstances exist. Please contact us to discuss your complaint.
Who can make a complaint about legal costs and bills?
- The client of the lawyer who has received the bill.
- The person legally responsible for paying the bill.
To make a complaint on behalf of another person, you need to have their authority to do so. Call us to discuss this if it applies to you.
How much can you complain about?
There are dollar limits on the amount you can complain about:
- the total bill must be less than $100,000 (including barrister’s costs), or
- if the total bill is $100,000 or more, the amount you are disputing must be under $10,000.
Outside of these limits, we may be able to assist on an informal basis if the lawyer agrees to participate in negotiations.
What if we are cannot accept your complaint?
There are times when we may not be able to help you with a complaint. If this is the case, we can explain your rights to:
- make a claim under the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading legislation at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), or
- apply to the Costs Court of the Supreme Court of Victoria.
Our fact sheet Legal costs – What rights does a consumer have? (250KB PDF) explains your rights in more detail.
How the complaints process works
What information do we need?
We need certain information from you so we can discuss your concerns with your lawyer.
We will ask you to provide:
- a copy of the bill you are complaining about
- a copy of any costs agreement or disclosure document your lawyer may have given you.
We may ask for more information later.
What we do
We will try to help you and your lawyer reach an agreement on what costs are payable. Our service is free and our staff are impartial, meaning that we do not take sides with you or the lawyer.
We need all parties to negotiate in good faith, which means being prepared to understand the views of the other party and to compromise on certain issues, where appropriate. The process can take days or weeks to reach a result you both agree to.
In very limited circumstances, we can make a legally-binding order, or determination, on how much the lawyer can charge for their work. We may also order the lawyer to take some other action to fix the problem. If we make a determination on your complaint, we will fully explain what this means to you. Examples of previous determinations are available on our Commissioner Determinations page.
Taking it further
Sometimes after we accept a complaint, we are not able to help you and your lawyer resolve it. In these rare cases, we will explain to you and your lawyer how you can take your complaint to VCAT (for disputes under $25,000), or to the Costs Court (for disputes over $25,000).
We are also able to close a complaint without taking any action. We would do this only under certain circumstances, such as if it we find that the complaint is best heard by VCAT or the Costs Court, if there is no substance to the complaint, or if you refuse to participate in good faith in our dispute resolution process.
Your complaint might involve other matters in addition to your legal costs or your bill. We can also receive complaints about the quality of service you received from your lawyer and the way your lawyer behaved towards you. We handle these types of complaints in different ways.
For information on complaints about the quality of legal services you received from your lawyer, see our Complain about quality of service page.
For information on complaints about the behaviour of a lawyer, see our Complain about conduct and behaviour page.
Our fact sheets can give you further information on your rights when working with lawyers
- Meeting a lawyer – your first appointment (151KB PDF)
- Working with your lawyer (207KB PDF)
- Non-legal services provided by lawyers (147KB PDF)
- Legal costs – What rights does a consumer have? (250KB PDF)
- Do you have a problem with your lawyer? (321KB PDF)
- No win – No fee costs agreements (358KB PDF)