There are two kinds of agreements:
- costs agreement—describes the fees and other expenditures you must pay
- conditional cost agreement (also known as no win, no fee)—describes the fees and other expenses you will only pay if your case is successful.
Conditional cost agreements
Include a 5-day cooling off period.Agreements on conditional expensesIf you have a conditional costs agreement (no victory, no fee), your lawyer may demand an uplift fee. If your case is successful, you will be charged an additional cost.
Your lawyer must inform you (in writing) of the rate of any uplift charge, as well as what a “successful” conclusion in your case entails.
The uplift charge cannot exceed 25% of the fees—this does not include any ‘hard’ expenses that your lawyer must bear. Fees for obtaining papers and data, physicians’ reports, barristers’ fees, and so on are examples of hard expenses.
Personal injury lawsuits
If your lawyer’s fees are restricted to half the amount of the settlement after refunds and hard costs are paid under a conditional costs agreement for a personal injury claim, your lawyer’s fees may be limited to half the amount of the settlement after refunds and hard costs are paid. This is commonly referred to as the “50/50 rule.”
Over $1,500 in bills
When you negotiate your costs agreement, your lawyer must provide you with a costs disclosure notice if your legal bill is projected to exceed $1,500.
A costs disclosure statement explains how they will charge and what their total estimated costs will be.
It must also inform you of your legal rights.
What your lawyer must tell you
In the case of any costs agreement (where the costs are likely to exceed $1,500), your lawyer must inform you in writing:What the total cost is likely to be, how costs are calculated, when and how frequently you will be billed, the interest rate you will be charged if you do not pay, and who to contact at the law firm if you want to discuss costs.
Your legal rights
Your lawyer must also inform you (in writing) of your legal rights to:
Bargain the cost agreement
receive a bill be informed if there is a significant change in a cost or fee receive progress reports (lawyers can charge for progress reports)
If you dispute the bill and the time limits apply, you can ask the Supreme Court to overrule the costs agreement.
Your lawyer must inform you in writing that you have the right to an itemised bill. An itemised bill details the work done by your lawyer and the fees charged for each piece of work. It must be provided within 28 days of your request.
Dispute over an agreement
If you believe the cost agreement is unfair, consult with a lawyer first. If you and your lawyer are unable to reach an agreement, you may request that the court appoint an impartial person to review your bill. This is known as a cost evaluation.
The court that will hear your case will be determined by the amount owed on your bill:
District Court—between $150,000 and $750,000 Magistrates Court—between $25,000 and $150,000 Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal—less than $25,000.
You may request a costs evaluation by contacting your local courts. There are fees associated with applying for a costs assessment, and the assessor appointed by the court will also charge you.
What does an assessor do?
Based on your cost agreement, the assessor will look at the contested expenses.
The cost assessor will think about whether the:
It was necessary to work
The job was done in a decent manner, and the charges were fair and reasonable.
The assessor will also want to see whether the lawyer provided you with a reasonable cost estimate and informed you of any significant modifications.
Other legal expenses
As part of the evaluation, you may be required to pay additional legal fees.
In general, if the expenses are lowered by more than 15%, the lawyer must pay the difference.If the costs are reduced by less than 15%, you must pay the difference. These expenses can be quite high.
Terminating a cost agreement
A costs agreement can be terminated by filing an application with the court or the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
If you decide to do this, you should seek independent legal advice.