If you’ve ever used the services of a lawyer you will know it is not cheap… they charge you for everything from opening a letter to sitting in traffic. However, even though you are paying the big bucks there is no official way for people to know if their lawyer is any good other than going through the motions of hiring one and dealing with your legal action.
If you find you lawyer has screwed you, there are avenues for you to complain (well in NSW anyway). However, the lawyers are well aware of how that complaint process works (and it is a process), so they can quite easily make it difficult for you to get any traction is these areas. For example: There are time constraints on entering a complaint (ie. 12months). Many other legal matters can be set in motion up to 12 years from the date it happened… why not for complaints about lawyers?
I believe there should be a national register of lawyers with ratings… the public should know the lawyers history and have all the necessary information to make an informed choice. When you’re being charged $300+ an hour to open envelopes, I think the justification for this kind of system is clear.
I think its a great idea, but I reckon the chance of being sued for running such a site and being ‘honest’ about a lawyer is the reason it doesn’t exist …
Interestingly I was looking into this about a couple of months back. The law website I went to had a couple of processes for complaints listed… one was through an independent company… when I went to that link it didn’t exist. When I checked up on the company via ASIC it had deregistered a few years prior. When I saw that I thought “maybe they pissed off too many lawyers”.
I’ll this if I can find the link again… I did inform that site that the link was dead but when I checked a month later it was still there.
Found that website: http://www.findlaw.com.au/articles/5415/what-are-my-rights-if-i-feel-my-lawyer-has-overcha.aspx
Most of the way down the page under “Independent Alternatives” it reads:
“Clients can seek an independent party, such as Legal Costs Investigations Pty Ltd (LCI) if they are unhappy with the final bill. LCI operates Australia wide and can deal with all areas of law.”
Legal Costs Investigations Pty Ltd was deregistered in May 2016
Most state governments will investigate complaints against lawyers…here is the one for Queensland.
It is also recommended that should one commission anyone for legal advice, that an estimate of costs be obtained prior to engaging the legal service. While these estimates are estimates only, they should give an indication of the likely costs associated with any advice/legal claims. It should also provide an indication of hourly charge rates for anyone who is likely to be involved in the service. Firms should also be able to provide capability statements of key personnel associated with the service…otherwise one may find themselves engaging a lawyer for tax advice when their capability sits more in criminal law.
After advice has been delivered, one can also request an itemised cost breakdown of legal services provides. One however needs to note that there may be a cost (like most other things) when requesting a breakdown.
It would be good if the individual state governments compiled lists of lawyers which had repeat complaints upheld and a summary of the complaint and resolution (if resolution occurred). Possibly similar to that some states publish for business complaints under the ACCC/State Fair Trade Acts.
As legal firms/practices can now advertise/tout for work, I suggest that this would be a good move for the average punter when investigating what firm to use.
Unfortunately this really isn’t enough. I had a quote that went from $10k to $260k over 3 years… the estimate kept being “updated”… there is no ceiling and once you’re in you can only stay in if you can afford it.
An itemised bill means nothing really as they could put whatever they want in that (and justify it).
Why not change lawyer? Not so easy… a new lawyer will have to read through your case and if that entails many boxes then that is not going to be cheap… just to get your new lawyer up to speed.
Consumers have certain independent and government protections on product and service purchases but when it comes to lawyers, that industry seems to self regulate.
I think Draftrider got it right… everyone is afraid of being sued if they challenge the legal fraternity
Before commissioning, it is possible to request an estimate based on a number of scenarios. Each new scenario is based on the previous scenario not being resolved. In simple terms, a first scenario may be resolution after first round of correspondence, second scenario may be taking action through a state tribunal, third action may be court, fourth action may be appeal process etc. A good lawyer should be able to run through each step of the legal process should the previous one not be successful. They should also be also to provide cost estimates based on each step, recognising that future step cost estimate will have a number of limitations (for example, cost of expert witnesses in court etc). This should give an idea of the scale of costs should resolution be long and protracted. It also allows one to make a more informed decision of whether to proceed down a legal process pathway.
I have had experience where clients have been ‘milked’ by lawyers…where the lawyers made decisions in relation to the process which achieved higher financial rewards for the firm, not necessarily in the best interests of the client.
The better informed one is, potentially the better placed one is to make the correct decision in relation to what process will be followed.
Cost creep can occur when poor initial advice is given in relation to the resolution process, for example, the lawyer indicates that it will be all resolved by a relatively cheap exchange of correspondence…and no indication of costs on subsequent processes are provided/sought. Later one finds out this process didn’t work and more costly and protracted legal processes are required.
Exactly… hence the need for a national database helping people to find a “good” lawyer.
I had no experience with the law so went to see a “professional” barrister. I explained I had no money as the company taking me to court had already stripped me dry… I listened to his advice and followed it. At no time did I think I was being ripped off and I couldn’t afford a second opinion.
Lawyers are supposed to operate under a code of conduct but if they don’t the onus is on the client to take action… to me this is like sponsoring a boxer to fight a heavy weight bout only to find yourself in the ring instead.