Your lawyer must give you a bill before they ask you to pay your account.
They cannot charge you for preparing or giving you their bill.
Refer to our Before making an enquiry or complaint page.
Time limits apply
The law imposes strict time limits on making a complaint about your lawyer's bill.
- 30 days for itemised bills from the date the bill is payable
- 60 days for lump sum bills from the date the bill is payable.
A bill becomes payable the date it is issued. We can only accept a costs dispute outside of these limits in limited circumstances.
You will need to explain the reason for your delay. We may also refuse to extend the time limit. A bill that is more than 6 months old is too old for our office to formally consider.
Where possible we work with you and your lawyer to solve your costs dispute via informal resolution or mediation.
We will make every effort to resolve matters as soon as possible.
Dollar limits apply
There are dollar limits on the amount you can complain about:
- the total bill must be less than $149,375 (including barrister's costs) or
- if the total bill is more than $149,375, the amount in dispute must be under $14,940.
If the outstanding balance of the bill in dispute is outside of these limits, we could help you informally resolve your complaint if your lawyer agrees to take part in either an informal resolution or mediation meeting.
Otherwise, we may refer you to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal if the costs are up to $37,345 or the Costs Court of the Supreme Court which has no dollar limits on matters it can consider.
Do I need to pay a bill under dispute?
When we look into a complaint on your behalf a lawyer is prevented from seeking to commence legal proceedings to recover payment until the dispute has been dealt with by us.
There are some practical reasons why you could choose to pay your lawyer's bill on time even if you wish to dispute the costs involved.
- A lawyer can sue you if your bill is not paid 30 days after the due date.
- A lawyer can refuse to hand over your legal files. This is known as the lawyer's right to 'exercise a lien' over client documents due to unpaid fees.
- A lawyer can charge you interest if your bill is not paid after the due date. The interest charged can be no more than the cash rate, as fixed by the Reserve Bank of Australia, plus 2 percent as of the date the bill was issued.
In some cases, we may investigate your complaint to assess what the fair and reasonable costs are, and can order the lawyer to:
- reduce or refund legal costs up to $14,940
- issue an apology
- re-do the work
- complete more training, education or counselling or be supervised
- pay compensation of up to $25,000 (if you suffered financial loss as a direct result of the lawyer's actions and can prove it).
If the bill is too high for us to accept your complaint, you can apply to the Costs Court of the Supreme Court to review the bill or part of the bill.
You should seek independent legal advice about the costs involved and if this is the right option for you.
We cannot assist with billing disputes about the running of a court case, outcome of a court case or if a matter is currently before the Court.
We cannot deal with a complaint when a costs order has been issued in legal proceedings. You should seek independent legal advice about how to deal with your matter.
We cannot overrule or intervene in a decision made a Court or Tribunal.
If you have told your lawyer in writing that you no longer want them to act on your behalf, or your legal matter is closed, your lawyer must give you documents within your legal file. They can keep some internal working documents from the file. The lawyer must do so as soon as possible after you (or an authorised person on your behalf) asks them to do so.
However, if you have not paid your legal costs, they can withhold releasing or transferring your documents (this is known in legal terms as exercising a lien over client documents) until you do so.
If you have changed lawyers and your documents are vital to your defence or current court proceedings your new lawyer may arrange reasonable security for the unpaid costs in return for your legal file. This may include a written agreement signed by your to pay the legal costs after your case has finished.
Only then if your lawyer refuses to hand over your legal documents you can submit a complaint with us about your lawyer's conduct.
Alternatively, you can pay the original bill (to access your file) and still submit a complaint to us. Let us know if you are disputing your legal costs or your lawyer's conduct.
The executor/s of a Will are considered the lawyer's client, not the beneficiaries. Only the executor of a Will can take action if they have concerns about the legal costs involved in distributing the estate. You should speak to the executor if you have concerns about the legal costs.
If your concerns are about your own lawyer that you have engaged to represent you in an estate matter, then you can lodge a costs dispute complaint.
If your concerns are about a lawyer acting as the executor we can only consider conduct-related issues. For example, if he lawyer is taking both a commission from the estate and charging legal costs to distribute the estate when they are not entitled to.