CONSUMER INFORMATION CENTRE

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How to Manage Your Legal Costs

The cost of legal representation is an understandable concern. There are things you can and should do to manage and control your costs without compromising your case.

The information below is provided to inform and empower you as a legal consumer.

Understand your lawyer’s fees.

There should never be any nasty surprises. You are entitled to know what you need to pay.

Lawyers must disclose their fees in full before undertaking work unless something is very urgent. This is the law. Disclosure includes an estimate of the total costs you will incur and how fees are charged. If anything changes the disclosure must be updated.

Ask these questions, and insist on clear answers, to fully understand your costs:

Q: What are the maximum fees I might have to pay?

Q; How are those fees calculated?

Q: What work does the fee cover?

Q: Could there be extra work required, which is not covered by the fee quoted?

Q: What factors might increase my costs?

Q: What can we do to limit my costs?

Q: Am I getting value for money? Is the work I am paying for:

 > Necessary?

> Likely to achieve the best result?

> The most efficient option?

> The only option?

Q: Is there any risk I will be ordered to pay someone else’s costs?

Make sure you and your lawyer have a goal.

Sorting out a legal problem or managing a Court case is a result driven process.

Have a goal and a plan to achieve that goal.  Focus on the things which will help achieve that goal.  Put aside anything that does not move your case towards the goal.

Example – Family Law

You were married for 20 years. You and your spouse managed your finances jointly, you had access to all accounts and financial records and you are confident you know the full extent of the matrimonial assets. You DO NOT need to spend thousands of dollars and weeks if not months engaging in a formal process of financial disclosure. The better approach is to move onto negotiating the terms of a settlement or commencing proceedings.

Example – Criminal Law

There is a temptation to attack every prosecution witness at a trial.  This can lead to an unnecessarily long and costly trial.  It is also generally speaking a bad strategy.  The evidence of some witnesses has to be challenged.   The best strategy is to focus on that evidence.  Where a witness gives evidence that does not strengthen the prosecution case there is little to be gained by attacking that witness.  Doing so is like picking an unnecessary fight.

Be open to negotiations and a compromise position.

Your lawyer should advise you of any opportunity to resolve your case more efficiently and cost-effectively by negotiating an outcome and avoiding the need for more protracted and costly court proceedings.

You might be comfortable with a compromise position that protects your interests rather than fighting for the ideal result. That choice is always yours but it is important you have the choice.

On the flip side, you shouldn’t pay a lawyer to draft a submission or engage in negotiations unless there is some sensible prospect doing so will improve your case. If a submission or proposal is doomed to fail it is a waste of your money to fund it.

Comply with court orders and directions.

The nature of an adversarial court system is that one party, and sometimes both, will not be happy with the terms of a court order. That sense of grievance might be perfectly justified. There may be the option to overturn the order on appeal.

However, while an order is in force no one has ever improved their position by disregarding or disobeying it. It’s the same as footballers and tennis players arguing with the umpire. Have you ever seen that achieve anything?

Not complying with court orders can cost you more than money, it can cost you your case. At the least it will result in more involved or additional court appearances. Every court appearance costs money.

Stay in contact with your lawyer.

Provide clear and complete instructions.

Taking time to sit at a computer and type out at least a summary of your instructions is the most effective way to save legal costs. The more information you can provide the greater the potential savings. A good lawyer will provide you some guidance and support to do this including explaining what information is required or providing a client instruction form or checklist. You will still need to meet with your lawyer but you can streamline that process and save money by providing your instructions in a draft form.

The alternative is spending time, often hours, with a lawyer taking your detailed instructions in person and from scratch.

Don’t delay and don’t tolerate delay by your lawyer.

The old adage, “time is money”, applies. Delay inevitably adds to your costs.

Ensuring you and your lawyer attend to matters promptly will not only save you time it will potentially give you an edge over your opponent in court.

A good lawyer will provide a written case plan and keep you informed of important deadlines.  A really good lawyer will attend to matters well in advance of any deadline.  It is dangerous to leave things to the last minute.

Factors which affect legal costs in family law matters
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