There are costs associated with seeing a lawyer. However the cost will depend on the type of assistance you are seeking. For example, a one-off legal advice appointment may incur different prices to ongoing legal representation. Representation at Court proceedings usually attracts additional costs on top of usual appointment fees.
Clients have a right to negotiate a costs agreement with their lawyer prior to signing, request an itemised bill, or ask for written reports about the progress of their matter at any time that the lawyer is engaged. It is important from both a legal and ethical standpoint that clients are well informed about these rights and lawyers remain mindful of their duties and obligations.
The Law on charging clients
The legal profession is highly regulated, therefore the costs which a lawyer can charge you are set out within the Legal Profession Act 2008 (WA) and Legal Profession Regulations 2009 (WA). Therefore you as the client have certain rights regarding what you can or cannot be charged for.
Costs Disclosure and Costs Agreements
A costs disclosure is a written document which gives a client information about the legal costs that will be involved given their instructions and their rights. Some of the information that forms part of costs disclosure is the basis upon which the lawyer will calculate their costs, an estimate, or range of estimates, of the total legal costs the client might expect to incur in having the lawyer carry out their instructions. A lawyer is obliged to update the costs disclosure from time to time when circumstances change. More information about what is required for costs disclosure is set out in section 260(1) of the Legal Profession Act 2008 (WA) which can be accessed at the following link: https://www.legislation.wa.gov.au/legislation/statutes.nsf/main_mrtitle_3558_homepage.html
A costs agreement is a contract between a law firm and a client which governs how much will be charged by the law firm whether calculated by reference to an hourly rate, daily rate, fixed fee for certain work or some other basis. Each law firm will have it’s own costs structure.
How your Lawyer may charge you
Lawyers may agree to charge you a fixed fee (a set fee for all work agreed to be completed on an hourly rate), no fee arrangements (free or pro bono assistance) or some other arrangement as might be agreed. This is dependent on the lawyer, and is something you should ask when booking or attending your initial appointment with your lawyer.
Lawyers may also charge their initial appointment at a reduced fee or at no cost. This is at the discretion of the individual lawyer, and should be clearly agreed in advance of the initial appointment.
You may ask the lawyer if they have concession rates or payment plans.
Lawyers may also ask for payment upfront or request you to deposist money into a trust account. Trust money is where a law practice holds on to the money on behalf of a client or other people in connection with legal services. This is normally used for ongoing and complex legal issues, such as attending trial for a family law dispute. As a client, you may request the law firm to advise you of application of the money being held in trust and the balance of outstanding amounts held in trust.
Clients should download and read the following fact sheets for further information:
- Legal Costs – Your Right to Know (Regulation 80(1)); and
- Your Right to Challenge Legal Costs (Regulations 82(1)).
The Legal Profession Regulations 2009 (WA), specifically regulations 80(1) and 82(1) refer to the following forms within Schedule 1:
Law Society Cost Kits
The Law Society of Western Australia has developed two cost kits to assist legal practices:
- The Law Society of Western Australia Standard Costs Kit; and
- The Law Society of Western Australia Family Law Costs Kit
Both of these kits contain the following documents:
- Offer by law practice to enter into a costs agreement;
- Explanatory notes for clients;
- Explanatory notes for law practices—Disclosure and Costs agreements; and
- Sample engagement letter.
Members can access cost kits for free through your dashboard.
Non-members may purchase cost kits through the Law Society online shop.