Roger Quick, lead author of Quick on Costs, has recently had an article on solicitor and client bills under the Legal Profession Uniform Law (LPUL) published in the Australian Lawyers Alliance publication Precedent.
As well as highlighting key reforms made by the LPUL when it came into force 1 July 2015, the article considers changes to conditional costs agreements and conditional bills and how these are likely to affect practitioners. For example, under the new regime if a solicitor delivers a lump sum bill, the client requests an itemised bill and the solicitor rejects the client’s request, a court may be called upon to determine the legitimacy of the client’s request for an itemised bill and, if the solicitor is ordered to deliver an itemised bill, how the bill must be itemised. The solicitor cannot assume the court will agree to their rejection of the client’s request to itemise a bill and, the client cannot assume that the solicitor will be ordered to deliver an itemised bill. The court will seek to strike a balance between the need to protect a client from being overcharged and to protect the solicitor from a client seeking to evade paying their debt.
Roger argues that utilising advancements in technology and training to produce itemised bills from the beginning of a matter, as opposed to engaging in this costly and uncertain contest after a matter has ended, is a solution that will allow solicitors to make an “offensive as well as defensive use of assessment” ie position them to use assessment to recover as well defend their costs.
As well as a push for lawyers and law practices to rethink their current billing practices, the article also raises a number of interesting points for consideration under the new regime. These include the use of alternative fee arrangements and legal project management as tools facilitating client involvement in negotiating how their work will be managed, the timelines and application of transitional provisions, and the interaction of the Australian Consumer Law and LPUL.
See the full article below, as first published in Precedent Issue 137 November/December 2016 starting at page 32.