It’s no secret that the legal fraternity uses an array of smokescreens to blindside clients into paying thousands, if not tens of thousands more in legal fees.

From high-priced lawyers working on low-value-add tasks, misguiding cost agreements and schedules, to no-win no-fee agreements. There’s no shortage of grey areas for lawyers to exploit.

In our last article, we looked at the first point – putting high-priced lawyers on low-value-add tasks.

In this one, we’ll look at the second point – the abuse of hourly rates in a cost schedule and how it feeds the exaggeration of legal fees.

Really, it’s a simple matter of item versus hourly based rates.

What they are. Why they’re important. And what they mean to your claim.

So, what are item and hourly-based rates?

Simply put, item-based rates are fees based on the completion of a certain task - not the time taken to do it.

An item-based lawyer would charge per page they’ve read of a document, or perhaps per phone call they make.

Definition: Item-Based Rates

Item-based rates are rates based on what task is completed.
item based rates

FIGURE 1: ITEM-BASED CHARGES ENSURE YOU'RE ONLY PAYING FOR THE WORK THAT'S BEEN DONE

It is a very objective charging system.

On the other hand hourly-based rates are based on how long it takes to complete a task. 

An hourly-based lawyer would charge for the time it’s taken them to read the document, or how long they were on a phone call for, not the document or phone call itself. 

Definition: Hourly-Based Rates

Hourly-based rates are based on how long it takes a worker to complete a task. 
hourly based rates

FIGURE 2: HOURLY-BASED RATES ALLOW LAWYERS TO HAVE 'UNCAPPED FEES'

It is a very subjective charging system, being wholly dependent on the competency of the lawyer at hand, and their honesty to perform within their fiduciary duty.  

Definition: Fiduciary Duty

Fiduciary duty is the legally-binding requirement for a lawyer to put their client’s interests before their own.

When fiduciary duty is broken, one of two things happen: -

  1. 1
    The lawyer gets away with daylight robbery, or
  2. 2
    The client goes through an arduous and lengthy process to reprimand the issue. 

Inside this guide:

  • How a lawyer's hourly rates can be controlled;
  • How to make sure expensive lawyers aren't doing easy admin tasks;
  • How to maximise item-based charges and stop leaving money on the table;
  • How to understand a lawyer's cost agreement and schedule;
  • And more!

Get your free copy of our guide to controlling legal fees in a personal injury matter.

Which of those outcomes materialises is in the complete control of the client.

However, it's only in their complete control when they're privy to the fact they might've been taken for a ride. 

The fact of the matter is, though, the majority of claimants have the wool pulled over their eyes, being led to believe their firm has done no wrong.

And, for the few who do realise, they generally realise it when it's too late. When the claim has run its course and the compensation is in their pocket. 

By that time, most are over their already 18-month-long battle with insurers, and don't want to then face another head-on battle - this time, with their lawyer.

That's why the best thing you can do in these situations is to educate yourself before signing on the dotted line. 

We've all heard the saying: the best defense is a good offence. 

A good offence will save you tens of thousands of dollars, and months on months of arguing.

Take the case of Charmaine Hall, whom we mentioned in our previous article.

Charmaine was on the receiving end of a dishonest firm that used their time-based cost agreement as leverage to exploit Ms Hall. 

Claiming $4000 to draft letters to doctors and $500 for a paralegal to write letter was just the start of it.

Her firm presented another extraneous charge for 2-3 hours of work to read medical reports. 2-3 hours per medical report. Medical reports that she claimed took her merely 35 minutes to read.

She paid for their incompetence and dishonesty.

And why should you be paying for someone’s incompetence, or worse yet, their dishonesty?

Realistically, when it comes to hourly versus item-based charging, one is a question of work completed, and the other is of competence and honesty

To put this into another perspective, let's consider this in the aspect of some everyday situations: -

  • Would you want to pay a painter per square meter they paint, or for how long it takes them?
  • Would you want to pay a real estate agent a set price to sell your house, or for how many hours they work on selling it?
  • And when was the last time you saw accountant tax returns advertised at ‘$30/hour.’ You don’t. They’re generally a set price offer.

The majority of people will always lean towards item-based charging, or ‘value pricing’, because it gives them certainty.

They don’t need to rely on external factors, incompetent workers, or opportunistic people to keep their costs in line.

Because the fact of the matter is, hourly fees give lawyers an uncapped opportunity to charge more and more and more.

Where an item-based lawyer would stop charging, an hourly-based lawyer can keep charging, and keep justifying it.

Key Benefit 1: Save Money

Hourly-based rates give lawyer's (and any service-based business) the opportunity to overcharge, basing it on subjective justification. Item-based rates stop this, ensuring a client only pays for the services they receive. 
hourly versus item based

GRAPH 1: HOURLY-BASED RATES RELY ON THE COMPETENCY AND HONESTY OF A LAWYER TO NOT OVERCHARGE

We saw that exact situation in Charmaine’s matter above.

Not only do the hourly rates allow unlimited justification of time taken, but hourly-based fees also drive extended claim times - after all, the longer they take, the more they get paid.

So why wouldn’t they take that bit longer?

Key Benefit 2: Save Time

Item-based charging encourages lawyer's to complete tasks quickly and efficiently so that they can move onto other billable items.

Let’s use our example of Kelly, and her chosen lawyer, Craig.

We mentioned them in our previous articles.

picking the right lawyer

FIGURE 3: KELLY WAS SURE SHE HAD PICKED THE RIGHT LAWYER AFTER LISTENING TO THE ADVICE OF HER FRIEND

If Craig was on an item-based agreement, it would make sense that he would complete everything as quickly as possible.

Let's suggest he had a stack of 100 pieces of paper and he was charging $20 per page to read it. He could get through that as quickly as possible and potentially generate $2000 in 3 hours

He could then move onto the next document in the pile, and continue to generate more and more and more fees for himself - whilst completing more and more and more work for his clients. 

Essentially, it would be in his best interest to complete is quickly so that he can move onto other chargeable items.

But, if he were charging a time-based rate, say $47.50 per 6-minute block, why would he bother reading it quickly?

He could easily claim that it took him '5.2 hours' to read, charging upwards of $2470.

And who’s to say it didn’t take him that long?

It's a tough call to dispute.

Time-based lawyers quite literally make  money off taking time.

It’s simple.

And it's hard to dispute.

Inside this guide:

  • How a lawyer's hourly rates can be controlled;
  • How to make sure expensive lawyers aren't doing easy admin tasks;
  • How to maximise item-based charges and stop leaving money on the table;
  • How to understand a lawyer's cost agreement and schedule;
  • And more!

Get your free copy of our guide to controlling legal fees in a personal injury matter.

If you consider how much time they add to each document, you can imagine by the end of a claim, they're likely to have added months onto their client's claim duration. 

After all, every little bit counts. And every little bit to them is extra money in their pocket. 

So how do you stop lawyers over-charging, over-justifying, and over-powering their clients?

The answer is simple...

Use a lawyer who's cost agreement reflects the Court's Scale of Costs.


The Court's Scale of Costs

The Scale of Costs is a cost schedule that outlines the charges for items a court finds fair and reasonable, dependent on your payout, at what part of the process the claim settled, and what offers were made in the process.

Depending on your compensation amount, you could be looking at the Supreme and District Court Scale of Costs, or The Magistrates Court Scale of Costs (Table 1).

Court

Monetary Threshold (Settlement Amount)

Less than $150,000

More than $150,000, but less than $750,000

More than $750,000

TABLE 1: A CLIENT'S SETTLEMENT AMOUNT DETERMINES WHICH COURT'S SCALE OF COSTS THEY USE

Not only do these scales outline what the court finds fair and reasonable, they are also used to calculate how much in fees are recoverable.

But what does 'recoverable' mean?

Well, let’s go back to our example of Craig.

Let's assume that Craig had a cost agreement that didn’t align with the Court's Scale of Costs.

Now, we need to preface this by saying this isn’t exactly uncommon. However, some of these 'misaligned' cost-agreements are still similar enough to keep costs recoverable - that’s what the audit in this article will determine.

For the purpose of example, we're going to suggest that Craig didn’t charge in accordance with the scale at all.

Where the Court's allocated $22.10 per hundred words, Craig would allocate $95.80 per 15-minute block. 

He charged on a purely time-basiscompletely against what’s in the Court's Scale of Costs.

When Kelly's case settled for $305,687, she was eager to start recovering some of her legal costs - a bill that totaled $162,485

cost assessor

FIGURE 4: A LAWYER'S AND A COST ASSESSOR'S STATEMENT FOR RECOVERY OF LEGAL COSTS WILL BE VERY DIFFERENT WHEN A COST AGREEMENT DOESN'T ALIGN WITH THE SCALE OF COSTS

Craig put forward his application for cost recovery, but because he hadn't charged in accordance with the Scales of Costs, the cost assessor came back with a very different figure.

Craig had put in an application for $79,346 to be recovered by the other side - just under 50% of his fees. However, the cost assessor approved a maximum of $69,785.

That's because the cost assessor compared the work that was done against the Scale of Costs and judged the reasonable total for his legal fees to be $151,896 - $10,589 shy of what Craig had charged.

That meant Kelly was leaving thousands on the table, all because she hadn't audited her cost agreement before signing.

The amount you can recover is based on what the court deems reasonable for the work that was completed, not what was signed in the client agreement. 

Key Benefit 3: Recovery of Costs

Fees that align with the Court Scale of Costs (generally item-based) will attract the potential for larger recovery of legal fees in a successful matter. 

And, now that you understand the three key benefits of item-based charging: -

  1. 1
    Keep legal costs low;
  2. 2
    Keep claim times short;
  3. 3
    Keep legal fees largely recoverable

​As well as what the Court Scales of Costs are and why they're important to you, we can move onto how to audit any cost agreement you’ve received from a lawyer to ensure you aren't leaving any money on the table.


Step-By-Step Guide to Auditing Your Personal Injury Lawyer's Cost Schedule

Your lawyer’s cost schedule is part of the cost agreement they give you, and is one of the documents you have to sign and hand back to them before they commence acting for you.

Essentially, it’s your legally binding acceptance of their charges.

example cost schedule

EXAMPLE 1: A COST SCHEDULE OUTLAYS ALL OF A LAWYER'S CHARGES FOR THE DURATION OF YOUR CLAIM

Definition: Cost Schedule

A cost schedule is part of the cost agreement document that a lawyer will require you to sign prior to commencing work on your claim. It's (essentially) your legally binding acceptance of their charges for your entire claim.

And, naturally, it’s not something you want to stuff up.

Cost agreements (as a whole) can be pretty intimidating and overwhelming to your average person, so, to ease the intimidation of the rows upon rows of dollar signs and numbers in the schedule, we’re going to focus on just 3 sections

These are: -

  1. 1
    Perusals;
  2. 2
    Drafting; and
  3. 3
    Attendances.

And we focus on them because these 3, 20% of your charges, generally make up 80% of your legal bill. It's the simple Pareto Principle.

80/20 rule

FIGURE 5: THE PARETO PRINCIPLE, OR '80/20' RULE, DESCRIBES HOW 80% OF THE OUTCOME COMES FROM 20% OF THE CAUSES

These sections might be worded slightly differently in each schedule, so if you can’t see them, don’t fret yet. We’ll touch on them in greater detail in each section.

To get started, you're going to need any cost schedules you have at the ready.

You can also download your own audit here so you can follow along with each stage. 

Before starting, you should download this and print separate copies for each cost schedule you plan to audit.

Part 1: Perusals

‘Perusals’ refers to the ‘perusal’ or ‘reading’ and ‘examining’ of documents.

And, naturally when dealing with insurers, there are a lot of documents woven into the process.

lawyer perusal

FIGURE 6: PERUSALS TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION THE PERUSING, READING, AND EXAMINING OF DOCUMENTS

Definition: Perusals

‘Perusals’ refers to the ‘perusal’ or ‘reading’ and ‘examining’ of documents.

The mountainous pile of paperwork is their main line of defense to deter claimants from approaching them for compensation.

That means that costs for perusals can easily be driven sky-high when a lawyer charges using hourly rates.

Inside this guide:

  • How a lawyer's hourly rates can be controlled;
  • How to make sure expensive lawyers aren't doing easy admin tasks;
  • How to maximise item-based charges and stop leaving money on the table;
  • How to understand a lawyer's cost agreement and schedule;
  • And more!

Get your free copy of our guide to controlling legal fees in a personal injury matter.

After all, how are you to prove it didn’t take them 60 minutes to peruse a one page document?

It’s exactly what happened to Charmaine Hall, and has happened to plenty of other unsuspecting Australians.

The best defense is to use item-based rates for perusals. 

And we know this because it's what the Supreme Court Scale of Costs uses to define what's reasonable and fair for perusal of a document: - 

Sub-Item

Charged By

Scale of Costs

Perusing a Document

Per 100 words

$5.10

TABLE 2: THE SUPREME COURT SCALE OF COSTS OUTLINES THE COST FOR PERUSALS AS ITEM-BASED

This type of item-based fee is based on the amount of words read (per 100 words), however, some law firms will charge per page, or variable item-based rates for the document length (ie. under and over 10 pages, etc).

Neither one is more correct – they’re merely variables of each other.

And, if we allow for the variables and calculate them based off what the Supreme Court Scale of Costs say, we can work out the rough fee per page: -

Sub-Item

Charged By

Scale of Costs

Perusing a Document

Per 100 words

$5.10


Per page

$25.50

TABLE 3: THE 'PER 100 WORDS' CHARGE CAN BE CONVERTED TO 'PER PAGE' TO ACCOUNT FOR VARYING COST AGREEMENTS

There are, on average, 500 words per page, so the 'per page' figure is merely the 100 words cost multiplied by 5. 

A cost schedule that explicitly aligns with the Supreme Court Scale of Costs will use one of these charges.

However, we need to apply reasonable parameters to consider firms who aren't in exact accordance, but are still close enough for thorough cost recovery. 

These parameters are outlined below: 

Sub-Item

Charged By

Scale of Costs

Reasonable Range

Perusing a Document

Per 100 words

$5.10

$4-$6


Per page

$25.50

$20-$30

TABLE 4: THE REASONABLE PRICE RANGE CONSIDERS THE HIGHER AND LOWER PARAMETERS AROUND THE COURT SCALE OF COSTS THAT CAN STILL BE CONSIDERED REASONABLE

You can then use these parameters to audit the cost schedules in front of you - does the price they've indicated fall within the appropriate range?

You can use the check-boxes below to indicate whether or not they fell within range, or you can download your own audit worksheets here. 

Sub-Item

Charged By

Scale of Costs

Reasonable Range

Audited

Perusing a Document

Per 100 words

$5.10

$4-$6


Per page

$25.50

$20-$30

TABLE 5: YOU SHOULD AUDIT THE APPLICABLE ROW AGAINST YOUR COST AGREEMENTS TO ENSURE YOU'RE GETTING THE BEST PRICE POSSIBLE

Before starting, you should download this and print separate copies for each cost schedule you plan to audit.

Remember, your cost schedules will (generally) only point to one of these cost types, so you don't need to search to an answer to 'per page' if your cost agreement is 'per 100 words'. 

As an example, we’re going to look at Craig’s hypothetical cost schedule – except (unlike earlier), we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and suppose that his cost schedule is somewhat in alignment with the court scales.

To start auditing this, we’d take a look at the perusals section of his agreement (Example 2).

example cost schedule

EXAMPLE 2: CRAIG OUTLINES HIS COST FOR PERUSALS AS $25/PAGE

We’d be able to note pretty quickly that he’s charging per page, so we could go back to the audit and look across the respective row to see if his fee falls within the parameters.

Sub-Item

Charged By

Scale of Costs

Parameters 

Audited

Perusing a Document

Per 100 words

$5.10

$4-$6


Per page

$25.50

$20-$30

TABLE 6: CRAIG PASSED THE AUDIT FOR HIS COSTS TO PERUSE A DOCUMENT

And, as you can tell, his fees do fall within the parameters – that means they’re item-based, reasonable, and (for the most part) recoverable.

Once you’ve audited the costs for perusals, you can move onto the costs for ‘drafting’.


Part 2: Drafting Documents

The drafting and production of documents is another fairly self-explanatory section of the cost agreement.

It represents the many ‘documents’ that need to ‘drafted’ and ‘produced’ by a lawyer as part of the claim.

Definition: Drafting

Drafting refers to the drafting and production (writing) of documents that are part of a claim. 

In a compensation claim, there are plenty of forms that need to be filled out. These include:

  • Claim forms – NOAC, Part 1 PIPA, Part 2 PIPA, etc.;
  • Statutory declarations;
  • Schedule of damages;
  • Advice on liability;
  • Advice on damages/quantum;
  • Court application;
  • Supporting affidavits;
  • And more.
legal drafting

FIGURE 7: DRAFTING REFERS TO THE WRITING AND COMPLETION OF FORMS AND DOCUMENTS

And each document demands a different level of expertise and effort, so it's not uncommon for law firms to charge an item-based fee dependent on the superiority of the person completing it - whether it's a partner, senior associate, etc. 

This isn’t how the Court Scales outline the costings, but it’s still easy enough to extract an average cost from. We'll do that below, but first we'll take a look at exactly how the Supreme Court Scale of Costs outlays it:

Sub-Item

Charged By

Scale of Costs

Drafting a Document

Per 100 words

$22.40

Producing a Document

Per 100 words

$5.40

TABLE 8: THE SUPREME COURT SCALE OF COSTS OUTLAYS AND ITEM-BASED CHARGE PER 100 WORDS, SEPARATING THE DRAFTING AND FINAL PRODUCTION OF A DOCUMENT

To account for variations again, we'll multiply the 'per 100 words' cost by 5 to work out the reasonable per page cost: -

Sub-Item

Charged By

Scale of Costs

Drafting a Document

Per 100 words

$22.40

Producing a Document

Per 100 words

$5.40

Drafting a Document

Per page

$112.00

Producing a Document

Per page

$27.00

TABLE 9: THE 'PER 100 WORDS' CHARGE CAN BE CONVERTED TO 'PER PAGE' TO ACCOUNT FOR VARYING COST AGREEMENTS

You'll also notice that the scale separates 'drafting' from 'producing'. Some lawyer's costs agreements combine these, giving just one complete cost. We'll allow for that variable too by combining the drafting and production costs: -

Sub-Item

Charged By

Scale of Costs

Drafting a Document

Per 100 words

$22.40

Producing a Document

Per 100 words

$5.40

Drafting & Producing a Document

Per 100 words

$27.80

Drafting a Document

Per page

$112.00

Producing a Document

Per page

$27.00

Drafting & Producing a Document

Per page

$139.00

TABLE 10: THE MAJORITY OF FIRMS WILL COMBINE DRAFTING AND PRODUCING INTO ONE FLAT FEE

We’ve now considered what should be the majority of variables, and can use these Court Scale costs to determine the reasonable ranges.

Inside this guide:

  • How a lawyer's hourly rates can be controlled;
  • How to make sure expensive lawyers aren't doing easy admin tasks;
  • How to maximise item-based charges and stop leaving money on the table;
  • How to understand a lawyer's cost agreement and schedule;
  • And more!

Get your free copy of our guide to controlling legal fees in a personal injury matter.

If, like we described above, your cost agreements are reliant on who is completing the work (partner, senior associate, etc), or what document is being completed (NOAC, affidavit, etc), you might need to add two more simple steps. We'll get to those below.

If not, you can go ahead and audit your cost agreements now, using the appropriate row to determine whether or not your cost agreements fall within these ranges.

Sub-Item

Charged By

Scale of Costs

Reasonable Range

Audit

Drafting a Document

Per 100 words

$22.40

$20-$25

Producing a Document

Per 100 words

$5.40

$4-$6

Drafting & Producing a Document

Per 100 words

$27.80

$24-$31

Drafting a Document

Per page

$112.00

$105-$120

Producing a Document

Per page

$27.00

$23-$34

Drafting & Producing a Document

Per page

$139.00

$120-$165

TABLE 11: YOU SHOULD AUDIT THE APPLICABLE ROW AGAINST YOUR COST AGREEMENTS TO ENSURE YOU'RE GETTING THE BEST PRICE POSSIBLE

Before starting, you should download this and print separate copies for each cost schedule you plan to audit.

Consideration for variable costs - who is drafting the document, and what document is being drafted.

This part can get a little more complex, so we'll use Craig's example cost schedule to demonstrate this.

cost schedule example

EXAMPLE 3: CRAIG, LIKE SOME OTHER LAWYERS, TAKES INTO THE CONSIDERATION THE SENIORITY OF THE PERSON AS WELL AS THE DOCUMENT BEING DRAFTED

Step 1: Average Cost per Page

The first step is to simply translate all of the separate page costs into one average.

To do that we follow the averages equation:

On first look, you’ll notice that this is above the highest parameter of $160 – however, there’s still one more step to complete.

m (mean) = sum of the items ÷ number of the items

In Craig’s case, we would add together all of those separate charges in his shedule to get the answer of $3150.

m (mean) = 3150 ÷ number of the items

Now, we count how many items there were. In Craig's case, there are 15 items. 

m (mean) = 3150 / 15

Therefore, the mean (average) is $210.

Step 2: Average of the Proportioned Costs

Proportioned costs describe the proportion, or percentage, that will be charged depending on the level of lawyer completing the document.

You’ll see that in Craig’s cost schedule (above), a principal will charge at 100% of what is listed, a senior associate at 95%, and so on and so forth.

Much like the first step, we just need to find the average of these percentages to complete this step. Remembering that the equation for average is:

m (mean) = sum of the terms / number of the items

We can add together all of the percentages in his cost schedule and get an answer of 470.

∴ m (mean) = 470 / number of the items

We can now divide that by how many items there were (6).

m (mean) = 470 / 6

The answer is, as such, 78.3%.

Inside this guide:

  • How a lawyer's hourly rates can be controlled;
  • How to make sure expensive lawyers aren't doing easy admin tasks;
  • How to maximise item-based charges and stop leaving money on the table;
  • How to understand a lawyer's cost agreement and schedule;
  • And more!

Get your free copy of our guide to controlling legal fees in a personal injury matter.

Step 3: Apply the % to the Average Charge

All that’s left to do is work out the total average charge per page (or whichever charge-type your cost agreement refers to) by multiplying the percentage from Step 2 to your average cost from Step 1.

For Craig, that would be 78.3% x $210.

The answer to this is $164.43.

And, as you’ll now notice, he falls within the recommended parameters for charge per page in drafting.

Sub-Item

Charged By

Scale of Costs

Reasonable Range

Audit

Drafting a Document

Per 100 words

$22.40

$20-$25

Producing a Document

Per 100 words

$5.40

$4-$6

Drafting & Producing a Document

Per 100 words

$27.80

$24-$31

Drafting a Document

Per page

$112.00

$105-$120

Producing a Document

Per page

$27.00

$23-$34

Drafting & Producing a Document

Per page

$139.00

$118-$167

TABLE 12: CRAIG PASSED THE AUDIT FOR HIS COSTS TO DRAFT A DOCUMENT

Now that you’ve established whether or not the drafting costs are reasonable, you can move onto attendances.


Part 3: Attendances

Attendances, for the most part, refers to meetings attended by someone from the law firm.

That can be for any of the following:

  • To obtain initial instructions from you;
  • To obtain detailed instructions from you in relation to liability or quantum;
  • Take a version of events of proof of evidence from a witness;
  • Attendance at a settlement conference;
  • Attendance at court for a callover;
  • Attendance at a mediation;
  • And many more.
legal meeting

FIGURE 8: ATTENDANCES REFERS TO ANY EVENT A LAWYER HAS TO ATTEND, SUCH AS MEETINGS, CONFERENCES, AND MEDIATIONS

And, when it comes to attendances, the Scale of Costs can get a little confusing and complex. That’s because there are many different levels of expertise required to attend these throughout a claim.

As such, the Supreme Court Scale of Costs is outlined as per the below:

Sub-Item

Section

Scale of Costs

Attendance to:

File or deliver a document, obtain an appointment, insert an advertisement, or settle and order

$29.10

Cell

To search

$29.10

Cell

To do something of similar nature

$29.10

Attendance by telephone that involves little exercise of skill or legal knowledge

Cell

$19.50

Attendance in court, mediation, case appraisal, compulsory conference, or before the registrar (without a barrister)


$88.10/15 minutes

Attendance for  a hearing or trial held at a place other than the town here the solicitor lives

a. By the solicitor


Cell

i. for the time spent in attendance at the hearing or trial – for each quarter hour

$88.10

Cell

ii. for the time the solicitor is absent from the solicitor’s place of business, including time used in travelling to or from a hearing or trial

Cell
Cell

A. for an absence of 4 hours or less

$605.60

Cell

B. for an absence of more than 4 hours – for each quarter-hour to a maximum of 8 hours

$39.15

Cell

iii. the expenses the registrar or a costs assessor considers reasonable for each day of absence, including staturdays and Sundays

$39.15

Cell

iv. the actual expenses of transport to and from the hearing or trial the registrar or costs assessor considers reasonable

$39.15

Cell

b. by the solicitor’s employee – the amount the registrar or cost assessor considers reasonable

$39.15

Attendance at a call-over, to be apportioned if the attendance is for more than 1 proceeding

Cell

$53.10

Other attendances

a. by a solicitor, involving skill or legal knowledge

$80.60/15 minutes

Cell

b. by an employee

$23.45/15 minutes

TABLE 13: THE SUPREME COURT SCALE OF COSTS FOR ATTENDANCES CAN BE HIGHLY COMPLEX

Now, it’s easy to look at this and be overwhelmed - but we’re going to break it down one step further.

We’re going to apply the 80/20 rule to this too, and acknowledge that 80% of attendance fees come from the following two parts:

Sub-Item

Section

Scale of Costs

Attendance in court, mediation, case appraisal, compulsory conference, or before the registrar (without a barrister)

Cell

$88.10/15 minutes

Other attendances

a. by a solicitor, involving skill or legal knowledge

$80.60/15 minutes

TABLE 14: THE MAJORITY OF COMPENSATION CLAIMS DON'T GO TO TRIAL, WHICH MEANS THE MAJORITY OF THE ATTENDANCES SCALE OF COSTS CAN BE OMITTED 

You’ve probably noticed that these are all hourly-based costs

You’re also probably wondering why on earth the Scale of Costs is recommending a time based cost. After all, didn’t we just establish that they’re the wrong way to be charging?

Well, not always.

The main reason for this, is because these are the contentious moments of a claim where a greater input of time can equal a greater output of compensation, regardless of the additional fees charged.

time outcome efficiency

FIGURE 9: TIME-BASED RATES ARE USED FOR ATTENDANCES BECAUSE THE GREATER INPUT OF TIME GENERALLY EQUALS A GREATER RESULT, REGARDLESS OF THE FEES 

Where someone is item-based charging for this, it could mean they’re short-cutting and settling for less.

For example, if: 

  • Craig and Kelly attended a settlement conference, and;
  • Craig's getting paid a flat $750 to attend, and;
  • The meeting starts to run over 4 hours;

the amount he’s (likely) now losing from not working on other billable items exceeds the value of negotiating Kelly’s settlement.

By that, we mean he could finish the conference in 2 hours and make the $750. He might've accepted a $50,000 offer, making him roughly $25,000 in fees. He then could've moved onto some other high billing items to make another $2700+ in the following two hours.

Or he could stay in the meeting for 4 hours and settle for $53,000, taking about $1500 more in fees from that, but losing the extra $2700 he could've gained on other billable items.

In that instance, he settles for less so he can leave quickly, and Kelly loses out on $1500 in compensation.

That’s why it’s generally better for the lawyer to charge an hourly fee to encourage lengthy negotiations to get the best outcome for their client.

As such, the Supreme Court Scale of Costs (and most cost agreements) will be done on an hourly basis for attendances.

Sub-Item

Charged

Scale of Costs

Attendance in court, mediation, case appraisal, compulsory conference, or before the registrar (without a barrister)

Per 15 minutes

$88.10

Other attendances: by a solicitor, involving skill or legal knowledge

Per 15 minutes

$80.60

Average for attendances

Per 15 minutes

$64.05

TABLE 15: THE SUPREME COURT SCALE OF COSTS OUTLAYS ATTENDANCES ON A 'PER 15 MINUTE' TIME BASIS

Regardless, we’re still able to audit the costs provided in each schedule to see if they’re reasonable.

But to do that, we need to break down the ‘per quarter-hour’ costs outlined in the Supreme Court Scale of Costs.

Inside this guide:

  • How a lawyer's hourly rates can be controlled;
  • How to make sure expensive lawyers aren't doing easy admin tasks;
  • How to maximise item-based charges and stop leaving money on the table;
  • How to understand a lawyer's cost agreement and schedule;
  • And more!

Get your free copy of our guide to controlling legal fees in a personal injury matter.

We’ll break them down to 6 minute intervals because that’s the time segment most lawyers will (and should) be charging in.

Sub-Item

Charged

Scale of Costs

Attendance in court, mediation, case appraisal, compulsory conference, or before the registrar (without a barrister)

Per hour

$352.40

Cell

Per 15 minutes

$88.10

Cell

Per 6 minutes

$35.24

Other attendances: by a solicitor, involving skill or legal knowledge

Per hour

$322.40

Cell

Per 15 minutes

$80.60

Cell

Per 6 minutes

$32.24

Average for attendances

Per hour

$256.20

Cell

Per 15 minutes

$64.05

Cell

Per 6 minutes

$25.62

TABLE 16: SOME FIRMS WILL CHARGE PER HOUR, SOME PER 15 MINUTES, AND THE MAJORITY PER 6

It’s best that they’re charging in the smallest timeframe possible – such as 6 minute intervals – so that you’re not paying for excess time.

For example, if Craig were charging in 15 minute blocks but it only took him 5 minutes to do a task, he must charge for the whole 15 minute block.

You can see that it then becomes more economic to charge in the smaller increments.

We can then implement the following parameters to determine what a reasonable price is for each of these.

If your attendances are based on seniority (as the drafting example was), you can follow along under the table.

If not, you can start to use the ranges to audit what your schedule might have outlined.

Don't forget - you only need to refer to what might be used in the cost agreements. You can disregard all other rows.

Sub-Item

Charged

Scale of Costs

Reasonable Range

Audit

Attendance in court, mediation, case appraisal, compulsory conference, or before the registrar (without a barrister)

Per hour

$352.40

$323-$375

Cell

Per 15 minutes

$88.10

$85-$91

Cell

Per 6 minutes

$35.24

$33-$38

Other attendances: by a solicitor, involving skill or legal knowledge

Per hour

$322.40

$78-$83

Cell

Per 15 minutes

$80.60

$305-$338

Cell

Per 6 minutes

$32.24

$28-$34

Average for attendances

Per hour

$256.20

$80-$90

Cell

Per 15 minutes

$64.05

$315-$360

Cell

Per 6 minutes

$25.62

$29-$38

TABLE 17: YOU SHOULD AUDIT THE APPLICABLE ROW AGAINST YOUR COST AGREEMENTS TO ENSURE YOU'RE GETTING THE BEST PRICE POSSIBLE

Before starting, you should download this and print separate copies for each cost schedule you plan to audit.

But, as we stated above, most lawyers will also charge attendances based on the level of seniority attending.

We’re going to apply a similar method from stage 2 to stage 3 to exemplify this.

Inside this guide:

  • How a lawyer's hourly rates can be controlled;
  • How to make sure expensive lawyers aren't doing easy admin tasks;
  • How to maximise item-based charges and stop leaving money on the table;
  • How to understand a lawyer's cost agreement and schedule;
  • And more!

Get your free copy of our guide to controlling legal fees in a personal injury matter.

Let’s suggest Craig’s Attendance schedule looks like this:

example cost schedule

EXAMPLE 4: CRAIG, LIKE MOST, WILL ALSO CHARGE FOR ATTENDANCES BASED ON THE LEVEL OF SENIORITY OF THE PERSON ATTENDING

You'll notice that attendances are proportionate and respective of who's attending the meeting. This isn't how the Supreme Court Scale of Costs is outlaid, so we need to translate it using the same method as we did in part 2.

It was in that step that we worked out the average of the percentages was 78.3%.

We then just need to multiply it by the coast of attendances.

If the cost schedule divides costs based on type of attendance (obtaining instructions, taking version of events, etc.), then you’ll also need to also average this figure.

However, for Craig, this isn’t the case – so we’ll just stick to the basics.

Craig’s average charge-out for attendances is 78.3% of $47.50 per 6 minutes.

That means Craig’s average rate for attendances is $37.19 per 6 minutes.

If we refer back to the audit, you’ll see that his cost is an average cost across all attendances, so we can refer to the 3rd row in the audit – average for attendances.

We can then move across to ‘per 6 minute’ since that’s how he’s charging.

We can then see that he falls within the recommended parameters, and, as such, is considered to be charging a reasonable amount.

If we now look at his entire audit, we can see that Craig falls within the parameters for these three large chunks of legal fees.

Sub-Item

Charged

Scale of Costs

Reasonable Range

Audit

Attendance in court, mediation, case appraisal, compulsory conference, or before the registrar (without a barrister)

Per hour

$352.40

$323-$375

Cell

Per 15 minutes

$88.10

$85-$91

Cell

Per 6 minutes

$35.24

$33-$38

Other attendances: by a solicitor, involving skill or legal knowledge

Per hour

$322.40

$78-$83

Cell

Per 15 minutes

$80.60

$305-$338

Cell

Per 6 minutes

$32.24

$28-$34

Average for attendances

Per hour

$256.20

$80-$90

Cell

Per 15 minutes

$64.05

$315-$360

Cell

Per 6 minutes

$35.62

$29-$38

TABLE 18: AFTER CONVERTING CRAIG'S COSTS, IT'S CLEAR TO SEE HIS AVERAGE STILL FALLS WITHIN THE REASONABLE RANGE

That means, for the most part, Kelly will be able to recover an amount that’s reflective of the amount she’s paid.

She’s leaving little-to-nothing on the table.


Putting it all together

By now, you should've audited your cost agreements and will have a fairly good idea of which firms are ripping you off, and which consider your best interests. 

As you would see, there are many other items in a lawyer's cost agreement, and if you've found yourself at a crossroads with two (or more) competing firms, you can start to look at these other sections to consider the befit they might or might not provide.

The best thing you can do is scan for predominantly item-based charges. Every hourly-charge that isn't justified is a red flag you need to be cautious of. 

If none of the cost agreements you've audited made the cut, you should continue to search - these firms do exist. 

Inside this guide:

  • How a lawyer's hourly rates can be controlled;
  • How to make sure expensive lawyers aren't doing easy admin tasks;
  • How to maximise item-based charges and stop leaving money on the table;
  • How to understand a lawyer's cost agreement and schedule;
  • And more!

Get your free copy of our guide to controlling legal fees in a personal injury matter.


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