Your lawyer must inform you up front of the basis for charging and the process for payment. The fee will take into account the time taken and the lawyer’s skill, specialised knowledge and experience.
It may also depend on the importance and complexity of the matter, the nature of the work and how urgent it is, results achieved and the costs of running a practice, and any quote or estimate given or fee agreement made at the outset.
Various arrangements can be made for fees, including:
Whatever arrangement is made, the fee should be fair and reasonable to both you and your lawyer and, as mentioned above, you must be given information in advance about the basis of charging and how and when payment is to be made.
As well as the fee, the lawyer may have to pay other charges (usually called disbursements) on your behalf and these will be passed on to you. These can include such things as court fees, registration charges and toll calls. Your lawyer can tell you what these are likely to be.
Sometimes a lawyer will, with your permission, instruct another lawyer to act on your behalf. In this case, your lawyer may bill you for the other lawyer’s fees.
A lawyer is required to tell you if you might be entitled to legal aid.
You can help keep the cost of legal services down by giving your lawyer a clear outline of what you need or what the problem is. This will assist when he or she estimates the likely cost.
In legal work, many factors can be hard to measure and may affect the final cost. Delays by another party can also increase costs and be outside your lawyer’s control. If what is involved changes or looks as though it will change, discuss it with your lawyer promptly.
You are free to tell your lawyer that you don’t want to spend more than a certain amount in legal fees and ask her or him to check with you before going over this amount.
Check that you and the lawyer understand and agree about what work is to be covered, what the fees and any other charges are likely to be, how you can pay them, and the process for the lawyer to report progress and any changes to you.
If you have any doubts about how a lawyer is handling funds held on your behalf, phone 0800 261 801 to discuss your concern with a New Zealand Law Society Complaints and Standards Officer.