Solicitors are required by law to inform their clients about how they are going to charge and tell them about their rights. This is called 'disclosure'. There are some exceptions, such as for commercial and government clients and where the total cost of the work is less than $750. Generally, your solicitor will inform you in writing about the costs of the work and the expenses that you have to pay.
When should my solicitor disclose?
Disclosure must be made upon being retained. If it is not practical for disclosure to be made on being retained, such as where further information or documents need to be provided or reviewed by the solicitor, it should be done as soon as the solicitor has the opportunity to do so.
How should disclosure be made?
There is no particular way, however, disclosure must be made in writing. Ordinarily, a solicitor provides costs disclosure in a costs agreement. The agreement ordinarily sets out the following:
- the amount you will be charged, if a fixed fee, or how costs will be calculated together with an estimate of the total legal costs for the matter;
- that you are entitled to:
- negotiate the costs agreement and billing method with the solicitor
- receive a bill or an itemised bill upon your request after receiving a lump sum bill
- receive progress reports about your case and about your costs
- who you can contact about your matter
- how you can dispute your legal costs such as through the Supreme Court's Costs Assessment System or by lodging a consumer complain with the Legal Services Commissioner and the applicable time limits to do so
- if the work is done under a conditional cost agreement with an "uplift fee", an estimate of the uplift fee or a range of estimates together with the major variables which may affect that calculation.
Certain disclosures may not be made at the time of the cost agreement as they only arise upon certain events occurring. For example, a solicitor is required to disclose details about the reasonableness of an offer of compromise received from the other side in personal injury litigation. This would often include information about likely costs to date and likely recovery of party/party costs. In addition a solicitor is required to update their estimate of legal costs when things change.
Estimates are not firm quotes. Your solicitor will tell you as soon as practicable after becoming aware of any likely significant increase in any estimate previously given to you.
What if I have not received disclosure?
There may be valid reasons why your solicitor has not provided costs disclosure. For example, the costs in the matter may fall below the costs disclosure threshold or you may fall within one of a class of clients to whom disclosure is not required. If your solicitor has failed to provide you with disclosure when required to do so, you need not pay the costs until the bill has been assessed by a Costs Assessor. See: Your right to challenge legal costs.