Lawyers are often seen as a necessary evil but good ones can be invaluable during particularly difficult times in your life. Others that have had legal issues know how critical a good lawyer can be.
When you are going to a consultation with your lawyer, remember that you are entitled to receive a written agreement as to how they charge. In fact, they are required by law to provide you with one. Check to ensure that the agreement does not include the right for the lawyer to charge for their time in evaluating your legal issue, prior to you signing such agreement.
Do not be frightened to ask your lawyer whatever questions are on your mind before you sign the agreement to engage them. The lawyer should not mind and should be transparent in their dealings with you at all times.
If there is something in the written costs agreement you do not understand or do not agree with, ask your lawyer about this before you sign.
Remember: your lawyer works for you, not the other way round.
If they refuse to answer your questions, they may be trying to hide something, and is a good indicator that you should look elsewhere for your legal representation.
Read online reviews from former clients of the law firm you propose to use and see what people have had to say about how they have charged clients in the past and whether or not those clients felt it was justified. The adage – ‘you get what you pay for ’ also applies to lawyers, so the cheapest doesn’t necessarily mean the best.
In Australia, lawyers usually charge by the hour so prepare yourself for all contact with them. Any time you spend searching for paperwork, asking for advice, or need to call back asking questions, you’ll be charged. If you’re ready when you arrive for the meeting, you’ll pay less and have your issues solved sooner.
When you first make contact with your lawyer, ensure that you understand the basis upon which you will be charged.
Depending on the nature of your legal issue, you may be charged on a time basis, or a fixed fee. In an ideal world, a fixed fee is better as it provides much more certainty. The problem of course is that legal issues are often complex and require a lot of negotiation and/or court which prevents the law firm from knowing how long a matter is going to take and hence requires them to charge on an hourly basis.
Be careful as law firms often charge in 6 minute time units – meaning that if you are on the phone with them for 1 minute, you will still be charged one unit of time – or 6 minutes. Whilst this may seem to be unfair at first blush, this is designed to take into account the incidental costs the law firm has. Whilst the phone call may have only taken a minute, the lawyer is required to write file notes about the call and to retrieve and record these file notes in your file, which increase the real time that is actually taken.
Check the cost for photocopying documents in the cost agreement as you can be amazed at how quickly this can add up. Once again, the amount charged often factors in the cost of the photocopying machine, and the time taken by a member of the law firm personnel to do the photocopying.
For legal matters that are conducted on a ‘No Win – No Fee’ basis, remember that if the matter involves litigation e.g. personal injury, you will be charged legal fees and expenses (often called ‘outlays’) by the law firm representing the party on the other side of the litigation, in the event that your claim is unsuccessful – unless the law firm representing you is prepared to cover this as well – which is most unlikely.