MANAGING LEGAL FEES IN FAMILY LAW MATTERS

In a recent Judgment handed down by Justice Robert Benjamin of the Family Court, two solicitors were referred to the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner (the Regulatory body for solicitors) as a consequence of fees issued to their clients.

The matter involved a seven day Trial, of both property matters and parenting matters which were settled throughout the course of the Trial.  During the course of the proceedings the parties, between them, had expended what Justice Benjamin described as the ‘eye watering’ and ‘outrageous’ sum of $860,000 in legal fees.

Justice Benjamin noted that lawyers have “a duty to minimise costs and to reduce conflict” as “the consequences of obscenely high legal costs are destructive of the emotional, social and financial wellbeing of the parties and their children.”

Justice Benjamin has asked the Legal Services Commissioner to investigate the fees charged in the case..

The quantum of fees expended by the parties in this case are unusual, however, the resolution of family law matters can often be expensive for both parties. There are however, steps that both McLachlan Thorpe Partners and our clients can take to manage (and reduce) legal costs, including:

  1. Ensuring the right person is working on your matter – The Family Law team at McLachlan Thorpe is comprised of Solicitors with various experience, including two Family Law Accredited Specialists. There are times when you will want one of our most experienced lawyers on your case.  At other times, for less complicated matters, you may not need a partner or associate solicitor involved, and it may be more appropriate for a more junior member of our team to handle your work, with appropriate supervision by one of our more senior lawyers.  We will always make sure that the most appropriate person is assigned to your case.
  2. Work to be done by you – The more work you undertake to assist your case the less work we will have to do for you, which in return reduces your legal fees. Where appropriate, we will ask you to complete forms or otherwise provide and review information and documents.
  3. Updates – the team at McLachlan Thorpe Partners will always provide you with a realistic estimate of your fees at the beginning of your matter and we will provide you with regular updates in relation to your legal fees and any changes to your estimate of costs, which develop as a result of the changing landscape and complexity of your matter.
  4. Be open to compromise – Your frame of mind will often be one of the most significant components of your matter and will have a huge bearing on how your case progresses and ultimately the legal fees you incur.

Although separation is an emotional time, it is important to try and remove the emotions and the ‘heat’ from negotiations and proceedings. We can help you with this.  There is rarely a ‘winner’ in family law; rather it is more often about managing the loss both parties incur.

Being flexible and working towards a settlement that both parties can ‘live with’ will ensure that your matter is more likely to be resolved quickly which in turn helps to minimise your legal fees.

  1. Court as a “last resort” – Not only does litigation ensure that your legal fees will increase, it also removes, to a degree, the control you have to make decisions about your children and property.

There are often commercial benefits to resolving matters by way of negotiation and as we understand the way in which a Court is likely to deal with your matter, we are able to advise you in relation to making (and accepting) reasonable proposals.

The team at McLachlan Thorpe partners will ensure that all alternative dispute resolution options are explored, including mediation and arbitration, to offer parties the opportunity to reach agreement, which is usually far more satisfactory, and tailored to meet parties and children’s needs.

How we can help

The team at McLachlan Thorpe Partners is committed to ensuring our fees are as reasonable as possible whilst ensuring that our clients receive the best service to achieve the best possible outcome.

If you are considering separating (or have already separated), our Family Law team has extensive experience with helping many clients through difficult family law matters.  If you would like further information, please contact:

Vicki Kelly, Partner and Accredited Family Law Specialist, on vkelly@mtpartners.com.au

Renee Smith, Accredited Family Law Specialist, on rsmith@mtpartners.com.au

Emma Shuttleworth on eshuttleworth@mtpartners.com.au

 

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