Our Costs Agreement (also called a Letter of Retainer)
We must provide you with our Costs Agreement (or retainer letter as some people call it). The Legal Profession Uniform Law Act NSW 2014 requires us to give you an estimate, or if this is not practicable, a range of estimates of the total costs of conducting your case.
Our costs agreement ensures transparency and disclosure about our costs. The other reason for a Costs Agreement is that our Professional Indemnity Insurer Lawcover requires these and our cover protects you and us.
Our costs agreement explains our hourly rate + GST. The firm’s fees are determined by applying these hourly rates to the units of time recorded by each staff member on your matter. Time is recorded in 6-minute units e.g. the time charged for a phone call of up to 6 minutes will be 6 minutes and the time charged for an attendance between 6 and 12 minutes will be 12 minutes.
Our formal written costs agreement will be issued without delay. You are asked to sign, scan and return it, seeking independent legal advice should you so choose.
During our first meeting, we will ascertain whether or not you qualify for our services. We reserve the right not to act for you.
It is often almost impossible to estimate your costs which is why typically we will give you a range that our fees are likely to fall within. The reason it can be difficult to estimate our costs is that we and you can be affected by a number of variables. Some of the variables which may affect and change the costs estimate include:
- whether documents presented by your partner’s lawyer have to be revised in light of varied instructions, poor drafting or because of an unjust and inequitable offer being made to you;
- the number of times a document has to be amended during the course of negotiations (we must, in turn, provide you with legal advice about the changes requested by your partner’s lawyer as well as seek your instructions about the terms of each iteration of the document);
- your prompt and efficient response to requests for information or instructions;
- whether your instructions are firstly clear or varied – often clients do not understand their matter or its complexity and this takes time to establish and to explain, often during face to face meetings which can go take hours;
- the lawyer or other persons with whom we must deal and the level of co-operation of the lawyer’s clients and other persons involved – in your best interests we do not take an inappropriately hostile approach when assisting you but some lawyers do and take every point – this in the end costs you more and is beyond our control;
- the number and duration of telephone calls or other communications;
- whether you change your mind about instructions you give us;
- changes in the law; and
- the complexity or uncertainty concerning legal issues affecting your matter.
One of the key reasons your costs may go up is if were are met with ‘an unresponsive respondent’. This means that your partner refuses or is reluctant or slow to participate in the process, refusing to produce financial disclosure documents, not instructing their lawyer when asked to or generally obstructing the process. Sometimes this is because they have mental health or control issues (please see below).
In the course of your matter it may be necessary to incur disbursements, which are fees, expenses and charges such as court filing fees, bank charges, courier fees, barrister’s fees, administration, title searching and property enquiries, agency fees for law stationers, and process serving. These are payable as and when they fall due for payment. We will not incur any substantial expense without first obtaining your permission.
The charges for disbursements are set out in Annexure A of our Costs Agreement.
We will seek your prior consent if we need to incur a third party disbursement in excess of $1,000.
Security for our Costs
Just as you are entitled to transparency and disclosure, we are entitled to ask you for security for our costs. Before we commence work on your matter, we will require you to provide us with security for our legal costs and the payment of any interest on unpaid legal costs. This money will be paid into our Statutory Trust Account. If you fail to provide this security, we may refuse or cease to act.
Solicitor’s Statutory Trust account
Accordingly, we may ask you to transfer funds to our trust account which is overseen by The Law Society of NSW. Should we hold money in our trust account on account of fees and disbursements, we will always ask you to authorise us to draw on that money to pay any amount due to us in accordance with the provisions of the Legal Profession Uniform Law and rules relating to the withdrawal of trust money for legal costs and/or disbursements.
When do we create legal relations with you i.e. when do you enter a contract to retain our firm?
If you instruct us to commence work either by phone or in our first meeting prior to signing our costs agreement in circumstances where we have explained our hourly rates + GST, that will be taken to be an acceptance of our offer to act for you and costs will be charged in accordance with our Costs Agreement which will be issued to you for signing by you and to this end, we shall rely on the relevant Clause in our Costs Agreement.