Under the laws governing the legal profession in Australia you may ask your lawyer to give you a breakdown of your fees and costs in an itemised bill. Your lawyer must comply with your request within 21 days (28 days in some States) from the request and give you a signed itemised bill. You shouldn’t be asked to pay for the preparation of the itemised bill as your lawyer is not entitled to charge you for that.
Your lawyer must disclose up front and in writing in a cost agreement:
- the estimate of your total legal costs
- your right to negotiate a cost agreement and the rate at which you will be charged
- your right to receive a bill of costs and your right to request an itemised bill after receiving a lump sum bill
- your rights in a dispute about costs.
An exception to the rule about disclosing costs is when your legal fees are under a certain threshold which varies between different jurisdictions. In Western Australia a lawyer need not disclose legal costs if they are under $1,500.
In relation to a dispute about legal costs you have:
- the right to apply for a costs assessment
- the right to apply to set aside your costs agreement
- the right to complain.
If you think that you have been overcharged you should first talk to your lawyer who may review your bill.
If 21 days have passed since you requested the itemised bill and you still haven’t received one and you are concerned that you have been overcharged you can make a complaint to the appropriate State or Territory Legal Services Commissioner.
If you are not happy with a lump sum bill or an itemised bill you may have your legal costs independently assessed within 12 months after you were given the bill. If on assessment it is found that your lawyer has charged you excessive legal costs and your bill is reduced by over 15 % your lawyer may have to pay the fees for the costs assessment. If your bill has been reduced by less than 15% you may have to pay the assessment costs.
Charging excessive legal costs is professional misconduct which is the most serious charge a lawyer can face as a member of the legal profession. You should seek legal advice if you are not satisfied with the outcome of your request for an itemised bill or if you think that you have been overcharged.