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The area of legal costs can be very complex and confusing for consumers to navigate.
To help you deal with any concerns you may have with your legal costs, you might use the services of a costs lawyer or a costs consultant.
‘Lawyer’ vs ‘consultant’
The terms ‘costs lawyer’, ‘costs consultant’ or ‘costs clerk’ can often mean the same thing. Regardless of their title, a person who works in the area of legal costs generally does the following type of work:
- Prepare detailed/itemised bills of costs, or assessments of costs
- Prepare a Notice of Objections to an itemised bill
- Appear as an expert for or on behalf of a party in court
- Negotiate on behalf of a party in a costs dispute
- Provide advice on issues such as security for costs, the validity of solicitor-client cost agreements and making or accepting of offers to settle the costs dispute
There are a few important distinctions between what a person who calls themselves a ‘costs lawyer’ can do, compared to a person who calls themselves a ‘costs consultant’ or by a similar title.
As the title implies, a costs lawyer is a registered lawyer who works in the area of legal costs. A lawyer may also call themselves a ‘costs consultant’ or ‘costs clerk’.
A person who is not a lawyer may also work in the area of legal costs, but by law must not call themselves a ‘costs lawyer’. Instead, most would call themselves a ‘costs consultant’.
A non-lawyer who calls themselves a costs lawyer is committing an offence. The Board could bring charges against that person for falsely representing that they are a lawyer.
All registered lawyers, including those working as costs lawyers, must be covered by professional indemnity insurance. Non-lawyer costs consultants are not required to hold this insurance, but some do. You should check this at your first appointment.
Offering other legal services
A costs lawyer may offer legal services in addition to costs services. By contrast, a non-lawyer offering costs services is prohibited by law from undertaking any legal work, or suggesting they can offer legal services. Such an offence could lead to imprisonment.
The law also requires that the language used in advertising, branding, communication and service proposals for legal costs must be carefully worded to eliminate the potential for confusion about the services being offered.
A non-lawyer costs consultant may be engaged by a law practice as a lay associate. Despite working for a law practice, the non-lawyer is still prohibited from offering or undertaking legal services.
Appearing in court
Non-lawyer costs consultants may only appear in Court on behalf of a client if the Court has granted them leave to appear. If the Court does grant the non-lawyer leave to appear, this does not automatically entitle the costs consultant, nor any solicitor retaining them, to claim costs from their opponent for that appearance. The costs consultant’s fees may therefore have to be borne by the consumer, no matter the outcome of the Court case.
If you have concerns about the quality of any lawyer’s work, their behaviour or the costs they have billed you, we recommend you raise your concerns with your lawyer directly. This also includes costs lawyers. Most issues can be resolved quickly and amicably. You can also discuss your concerns with our office.
We are able to help you with complaints about non-lawyer costs consultants only if they work for a legal firm. For all complaints about non-lawyer costs consultants who are not employed by a legal firm, please contact Consumer Affairs Victoria.
Is my costs consultant a lawyer?
If you are unsure if your costs consultant is a lawyer or not, you can ask them if they hold a current practising certificate. You can also check the Board’s online Register of legal practitioners and law practices which lists all people who hold a current legal practising certificate.
Questions to ask your costs consultant
The Board and Commissioner do not recommend the use of costs lawyers over non-lawyer costs consultants. Both fields contain persons with eminent experience. Consumers are entitled to ask questions to ensure that they are seeking the right type of person to address their legal costs issue:
- Do you hold a current practising certificate?
- Do you hold a current professional indemnity insurance policy?
- How many years’ experience do you have in the area of legal costs?
- Are you employed by a law practice?