When you hire a lawyer in Victoria they charge professional fees for their services.
How much they will charge you depends on a few things such as:
- how much time you need them for
- how complex the work is
- who works on your legal matter, and
- the type and quality of legal services they offer.
There are several billing methods that lawyers may use to charge for their services.
Their fee for service must be ‘fair and reasonable’ or you can dispute their bill within your rights under the Uniform Law.
How a lawyer bills you
If you hire a lawyer and their work will cost more than $750 they must give you a written estimate. This is known as a costs disclosure. It should include:
- an estimate of how much the legal work will cost (in total)
- how they will charge you for their work (i.e. hourly rate, fixed rate or other).
How costs disclosures work
When your lawyer gives you their costs disclosure in writing you can agree to hire them verbally, by continuing to provide them with your instructions, via email or at your meeting. The costs disclosure needs to be a single figure estimate, not a range.
You don’t have to sign a document for it to be legally binding unless you agree to a conditional cost agreement (also known as No-win, No-fee) with your lawyer. Read more about different billing methods.
When you ask your lawyer to carry out certain work for you will need to pay for their work. This is known in legal terms as 'giving instructions'. If you no longer want to be their client, you will need to tell them their services are no longer required. It is best to follow this request up in writing or via email.
Remember the longer you engage with your lawyer, the higher the legal costs will be. That's why it is worth taking the time to prepare for your first appointment and understand how and when they can help you.
Your lawyer must explain your right to:
- request and negotiate your legal costs
- negotiate a billing method
- receive a bill, and to request an itemised bill if you received a bill that is not itemised or is only partially itemised
- how to contact us if you wish to dispute your legal costs.
Your lawyer should always update you when things change, including any likely increases in costs or any changes to their original estimate. Their updated costs disclosure should inform you how much their services are likely to cost you. They should provide you with an updated estimate as soon as possible and this must be in writing.
Things to consider
Before you hire them, ask yourself:
- Am I comfortable with this lawyer and their advice?
- Do I understand what they will do for me and what this will cost?
- Do I know who will work on my legal matter and their level of experience?
- Have they explained if I am likely to be successful with my legal matter and what this may cost?
- Did they explain my rights including who to complain to if things go wrong?
Lawyers must not charge more than fair and reasonable amounts for legal costs. This means they should charge you an amount that any person who reviews these charges would consider them to be suitable. What is considered fair and reasonable depends on a range of factors including; how urgent the work is, the number of documents involved, the instructions given in the matter, how much skill and expertise is required, how complex the legal matter is and how much time is spent on the matter. A lawyer must act in a way that avoids unnecessary delays and increases in legal costs.
A costs disclosure is a written estimate of the total legal costs that your lawyer will charge for their services, and how they will bill you.
A costs agreement is a more detailed agreement in writing that is enforceable by law in the same way as any other contract between two or more parties.
Under the Uniform Law, they don’t have to provide you with a costs agreement. The only exception to this is if you enter into a conditional costs agreement, also known as ‘No win-No fee’.
A written costs disclosure is not required, but you can ask for one from your lawyer.
Between $750 and $3000
A written costs disclosure must be given to you in writing. It should include:
More than $3000
A more detailed written costs disclosure is required. As well as the details listed above, it may include:
What happens if the lawyer ceases to act for you, or if you stop using the lawyer.