Family Law Cost Agreements
As of 1 July 2015, new laws came into effect with regard to legal costs and costs agreement. The new laws came into effect under the Legal Profession Uniform Law 2014 (the Uniform Law) and must be complied with by all lawyers.
In Family Law matters the costs of legal representation is of concern to many people, and in particular where matters need to go to Court, the costs can be significant. It is for this reason that it is very important that you are informed of potential legal costs from the start and you are familiar with the cost agreement provided to you.
The best way to find out about your possible legal costs is of course to ask your Family lawyer, indeed your lawyer has an obligation to provide you with a written cost agreement and disclosure, where the legal fees are above $750.
What is a Family Law Cost agreement?
A Cost agreement is a legal document between you (the client) and your Family Lawyer ( or the firm that employs the family lawyer) and is a written record of the agreement of services to be provided to you and the costs you agree to pay for the legal services that are provided and any disbursements. The cost agreement once it is signed or instructions are taken, is a legally binding documents where both you and your lawyer are bound by the terms and conditions of the document.
Should I get independent legal advice before I enter into the cost agreement?
You are entitled, prior to entering any legally binding arrangement to seek independent legal advice. This is your right and if you have concerns or difficulties understanding the agreement, then independent legal advice is an option for you. It is encouraged that after you have read the agreement, and still have questions that of course you speak with the Family lawyer who will be providing the services to you.
It is essential that from the outset, that you understand the fees you are required to pay and your rights and obligations under the agreement. Don’t be shy or afraid to talk about costs with your lawyer, any reputable lawyer will be open and transparent about the fees they are charging and if they are not, consider changing lawyers. Lawyers have an obligation and duty to explain the cost agreement to you and further to take all reasonable steps to be satisfied that you have in fact understood the cost agreement.
What are professional fees?
Professional fees are the cost of legal services. It usually means the hourly charge out rate of the lawyer and other staff members such as para-legals. It is very important that you know the charge out rate of your lawyer and also that you know when the lawyer will charge you for work done. For example, your Family Lawyer may charge you for legal research and travelling time to and from Court or mediation.
Professional fees are usually charged in 6 minute blocks and recorded as 1 unit on your invoice. So, for example instead of being charged 30 minutes for reading time , you will see the number 5 recorded, which means 5 units have been spent on reading material for you. Again if you do not understand the units charged or what work has been done, seek clarification from your Family lawyer as soon as you become concerned or unsure of an item invoiced or the costs. The quicker you nip issues in the bud, the more control you will have over the costs you will pay.
Does my Family Lawyer have to give me an estimate of my legal costs?
The short answer is yes they do and the estimate cost must include all external disbursements, such as the cost of Barristers, independent experts, filing fees as well as internal costs, such as cost of photocopying, postage and the like.
The underlying principle here is that you are aware of your potential legal costs throughout the various stages of your family law matter. Prior to the new legislation, lawyers could give an estimate range of costs, this is no longer possible and what you will get is one total figure which will provide an informed estimate of the overall cost of your matter.
The idea of providing estimates is of course difficult for lawyers, because we do not hold a crystal ball and clients will understandably have the view that Family lawyers and lawyers in general will underestimate the costs to secure the work. It has been our experience in fact that we provide estimate costs with the instructions that have been provided by the client and based on this, costs are worked out. It is our practice to not under estimate costs but to always provide a genuine estimate of legal costs.
I have not signed the Cost Agreement, so am I still bound by the terms?
Most cost agreements will make it clear, that an acceptance of the Cost Disclosure and Cost Agreement will be made either by signing the document or by continuing to instruct the Family lawyer to conduct your matter for you. Simply not signing the document, does not mean that you are exempt from the obligations imposed.
If in doubt however, contact your Family Lawyer to discuss these matters.
What happens if I am not happy with my legal fees?
Unfortunately disputes over legal fees are common and where this does occur the following options are available:
(a) Discuss the concerns with your Family Lawyer;
(b) if you do not receive a satisfactory resolution or response from your Family Lawyer, then you can request and must receive an itemised bill within 30 days after a lump sum bill or partially itemised bill has been issued;
(c) Make a complaint to the NSW Cost Commissioner in relation to your bill within 60 days after the legal costs are payable;
(d) Make an application to have your costs assessed by the Manager, Costs Assessment located at the Supreme Court of NSW within 12 months after the bill was paid or request for payment made or after the costs were paid.
Does no win, no fee apply to Family Law Matters?
In family law matters, each party generally pays their own legal costs. In family law matters there are no winners or losers (although sometimes it feels that way!). Family lawyers will expect to be paid according to their cost agreement and not to the success or otherwise of your matter. Remember the principles of Family Law are about promoting the best interests of children and ensuring that justice and equity is done in all family law matters.
The information contained herein is of a general nature, and should not be relied upon for your individual matter. If you require further legal information or advice please contact a Family Lawyer.