Last Updated 19 December 2016
There are a number of options available to a person disputing a solicitor’s bill. However, those options depend on the type of work done by the solicitor, the contents of the costs agreement and the format of the bill.
A solicitor can take action to recover costs, but not until after 30 days have expired from when the client was provided with a copy of the bill. To ensure that extra legal expenses are not unnecessarily incurred, a client who disputes a bill should act promptly to query it.
If someone disputes a bill and wants to have it formally assessed, an application for a costs assessment can be made. This must be done within 12 months after a bill was given, the request for payment was made to the client or third party payer, or from the time when the costs were paid if neither a bill was given nor a request was made (s 335 Legal Profession Act 2007 (Qld) (Legal Profession Act)). The costs of an assessment will be ordered against a practitioner if the bill is reduced by 15% or more, or where the solicitor has breached certain other obligations (see s 342 of the Legal Profession Act).
A client who has a dispute with the solicitor about a bill should try to resolve the matter initially through discussion with the solicitor. Once you explain your concerns, your solicitor can explain the costs to you and may agree to review and adjust the bill. If this is unsuccessful, either party has the option to try to resolve the problem through mediation. Because of the strict time limits involved, parties may simply proceed to deal with their costs disputes through the costs assessment process set out in the Legal Profession Act. Clients wishing to try mediation should act quickly in order to leave enough time for the more formal alternatives if the mediation is not successful.
Family law matters
Disputes concerning legal costs in family law matters are dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the Legal Profession Act. A detailed brochure on costs that may be ordered in court proceedings in family law matters is available from the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court.
Solicitors’ bills and client files
Until a person has paid any amounts outstanding to a solicitor, that solicitor usually has a right to retain the person’s file. This is known as a solicitor’s lien. Where a person wants to have their file transferred to another solicitor, it is usually necessary to pay all outstanding amounts to the original solicitor. In some circumstances, it may be possible for the new solicitor to negotiate with the original one to transfer the file on the basis that the costs of the original solicitor will be paid from the proceeds of any settlement of the client’s legal matter. If the problem has arisen because a solicitor has acted improperly or negligently, then an affected client should consider the complaints options discussed below. The legal practitioner may be required to release the file in certain cases, despite fees still being owed. More information about solicitor’s liens is available from the Queensland Law Society.