Should I get a quote for how much it will cost?
Make sure you get a quote for costs before instructing a lawyer to act for you. Ask the lawyer:
- if the first appointment is free or discounted
- what and when you will have to pay.
What are the main types of legal fees?
If you use ('instruct') a lawyer they will charge you different types of fees. These are:
- "professional costs" which cover a lawyer's time, effort and expertise, and
- "disbursements" which cover the costs the lawyer must pay to someone else as part of the case (for example, the fee for a doctor's report or lodging documents at the court or a barrister's fees).
What are some of the different ways of paying a lawyer?
Like most professionals, lawyers charge at different rates and in different ways:
- If the legal problem is court-related, then scales of costs established under the rules of the court can be used as a basis for charging. For example, the scale of costs will say how much can be charged for preparing documents or going to court, etc.
- If the lawyer is not charging the scale rate they must give you a costs agreement to sign.
- You can agree to:
- pay for the amount of time the lawyer spends on your case
- pay a certain amount for the specific work performed, for example, this is often used for conveyancing
- pay under what is called conditional costs agreement, sometimes called a "no win, no fee" arrangement.
Do not sign a costs agreement if you are not sure what it means. Ask your lawyer to explain it to you.
It's important to check the basis on which charges are calculated. If the lawyer needs to use a barrister, there will be a charge for both the barrister's and lawyer's time.
What does "no win, no fee" mean?
This means that you will not have to pay the lawyer unless your claim is successful. You will be asked to sign an agreement where the lawyer agrees to provide legal services free of charge if the claim is not successful. You will usually still have to pay any disbursements up-front.
The lawyer will assess your chances of success and takes the risk that you might lose. Make sure you read the agreement very carefully. If your claim is successful they may add a "premium" (additional charge) on top of the normal fee they would charge. Be careful not to be pushed into settling a claim unless you are happy to do so.
Will I get my costs back if I win my court case?
It depends on what sort of court case it is. In some cases, the court has no power to award costs.
Sometimes you may have to pay your own costs even if you win. Usually you will get some of your costs back if the loser is ordered to pay the costs of the winner. Sometimes the court may order a party to pay the other side's costs for one part of the case, for example, if the other party has extra legal costs because documents were lodged late.
Having your costs paid by the other side may not cover all your costs. The court awards costs on a scale that may not take in to account:
- all the work your lawyer has done
- any 'costs agreement' you and the lawyer may have.
Going to court is nearly always expensive and you can rarely be guaranteed a win.
What if I believe the lawyer's fee is excessive?
You can ask for a detailed bill. You usually have 30 days for this to be done.
If after getting the itemised bill you still believe the charge is too high you can ask for the bill to be "taxed". This means it will be checked in the relevant court.
Having a bill taxed can be expensive. Before you apply you should seek legal advice to make sure you have a case.
It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to grossly overcharge and you can make a formal complaint to the Legal Profession Complaints Committee on (08) 9461 2299 if you believe the taxed bill shows this has happened.
For more information see Complaints about lawyers.
What if my case is at the family court?
For more information about legal costs in the Family Court of WA, see the Family Court of Western Australia Costs Notice brochure (see Schedule 6 Cost Notice if your case was at court as at 30 June 2008 and Chapter 19 Costs Notice if yours is a fresh application after 30 June 2008).
Where can I get more information?
Fact sheets on various aspects of costs including: types of costs and cost agreements, costs disclosures and costs disputes, A bill from your legal practitioner: What to do if you think it is too much published by the Legal Profession Complaints Committee can be downloaded from the Legal Practice Board of WA website.
Last reviewed: 14/01/2015