Fees, Value and Quality

Date: Sep 28, 2011
Document Type: Article

At Craddock Murray Neumann, we think of “value” as providing high quality legal services for a reasonable fee.

It is not always apparent how some professionals – including doctors, dentists, architects, accountants and engineers - calculate their fees. We often just accept a bill from these professionals without knowing exactly how the fees are calculated. 

Fixed fees

Sometimes legal services proceed down a predictable path, e.g. sale and purchase of residential property, undefended bankruptcy/company winding up and debt recovery maters, some probate and migration law services etc. With these services it is possible to offer a fixed price.  

For example, in a debt collection matter where our client is an individual owed $60,000, and we obtained judgment on 1 September 2011, we would charge $1,179.70 (based on the 1 August 2011 Local Courts Civil Claims Fees Schedule) being:

lawyer’s professional fees: $931.70 + Court Fees/Service expenses of $248 = $1,179.70. 

For the fixed fees we can charge in conveyancing and immigration matters, please phone Julian Van Leer on 8268 4000. Julian will put you in touch with an experienced lawyer.

Time costing

Sometimes fees are based on the time spent because there are too many variables e.g.:

·         in commercial and property matters:

o   the nature of the transaction;

o   how other parties behave and how negotiations proceed; 

o   is there is a precedent agreement, or is “tailor made” documentation necessary?

·         in litigation:

o   will there be negotiation, arbitration, mediation, a drawn-out hearing or an appeal?

o   what are the resources of the other side to prosecute their case, to satisfy a judgment and/or to pay legal costs?

o   what is the evidence and how does it develop as the matter proceeds? Do the parties agree or disagree on the evidence? What expert reports are necessary?

o   how complex are the legal issues? Is the applicable law uncertain?  

An hourly rate should be appropriate to the complexity of the matter. For example, a client should not be charged a partner’s hourly rate when a properly supervised employed lawyer can do the task just as well.

Mixed hourly and fixed fees

Sometimes it is possible to charge a fixed fee, plus a fee which varies depending on how the matter develops. For example if someone is owed a fixed (“liquidated”) debt, it is often possible to give a fixed fee for filing the Statement of Claim, and if a defence is filed, the rest of the work might proceed at an hourly rate.

Fee Agreements

Unlike most other professionals, lawyers are required to provide their clients (except in very small cases) with a written fee agreement containing an estimate of fees which are likely to be generated.  This is not so easy where the matter involves highly contested and unpredictable litigation, or protracted negotiation of a commercial deal. Despite these uncertainties, a lawyer should at least provide their best estimate of the range of fees, and update that estimate as the matter progresses. 

At Craddock Murray Neumann we are happy to discuss these estimates, how the work is supervised, time is recorded, and how experts, barristers and expenses are to be charged etc.  

Review of fees

Unlike other professionals, lawyers can be required to submit their bills to formal and independent assessment e.g. under the Legal Profession Act, under the Federal Court Rules, the Rules of the Family Court etc.  

At Craddock Murray Neumann we will discuss fees with our clients at any stage. 

The lawyer’s role

A lawyer should identify and advise a client honestly on the available options, and then to carry out the client’s instructions.  

Judgement

There is often more than one way to proceed. A good lawyer will make and communicate astute judgements based on a detailed understanding of the law and facts.

Language and tone

A good Lawyer will use language a client understands. 

A good lawyer must be persuasive - in the words of one of our favourite barristers: “it’s in the tone”.  

Imagination and guidance

A good Lawyer will have imagination – not make up evidence, but be able to “model” all of the permutations which can result from the facts as they develop, and use the rich resources of the language to formulate ideas and approaches, and mould legal relationships, which our clients might not have considered or which other parties might not expect. 

Resourcefulness

A good lawyer will know how to find evidence, expert opinion and specialist assistance.

Thoroughness

A good lawyer will “chase the rabbits down the holes” – follow up leads, explore for evidence etc. They will advise their client of the options and risks, and prepare documents or submissions in a way which the other party (and in litigation, the Court) is likely to consider persuasive.

Supervision

Less senior lawyers should be supervised by experienced and specialist lawyers. 

Communication

A good lawyer will be approachable and will let their client know about the progress of a matter, including any necessary revised estimates of fees.  

Resources

A lawyer’s office should have skilled and supervised professional and support personnel, good equipment and efficient office systems.

Office systems

At the heart of a good office system is a good matter management system. At Craddock Murray Neumann we have invested heavily in our Affinity matter management system which enables us to use matter plans, automate production of standard documents, automate diarising etc. This ensures that all relevant steps are taken, and that our lawyer’s time is spent on the “high end” aspects of the matter, and not on routine administrative tasks.

ISO/ Law 9000 Quality Certification

Quality Management Accreditation to International Standards Organisation (ISO) Standards provides independent evidence that a law firm has the systems to ensure efficient and competent legal representation.   Craddock Murray Neumann has such accreditation certified by SAI Global. This is explained elsewhere on this website.

Contact and further information

To discuss our fees and services please phone Julian Van Leer on 8268 4000.

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