Written by Nicole Evans, Senior Associate

When faced with a legal challenge, the first question a client asks themselves is how do I find a good lawyer?

This is often a difficult task for someone who isn’t familiar with the legal industry and doesn’t know any lawyers. Even if you have used a lawyer before and you have a new matter, how do you know they are right for this matter, and have the right experience and know how to help get you the best result?

If you do know a lawyer, it can be helpful to ask them to refer you to a lawyer who practices in the area that you need. They may not factor in your budget, however, and they may not be available when you need them. Some lawyers and firms advertise on the internet and on the radio, but be aware that these are advertisements only and it’s always good to have a recommendation from someone who has used that lawyer before. Uther Webster & Evans are happy to provide you with recommendations from previous clients if you haven’t instructed us to act in a matter for you before, to ensure that you feel safe and secure with our services.

The Law Society of NSW has a lawyer referral service and they can refer you to a number of lawyers and you can have a chat to as many as you like to ensure you feel comfortable with your choice and their fees. Uther Webster & Evans often receive referrals from the Law Society, but predominantly are referred clients from others colleagues in the legal industry including lawyers and barristers, as well as financial advisors, accountants and previous clients.

Before you meet with your lawyer, it’s a good idea to ask whether the first consultation is free of charge. Some lawyers take matters on a ‘no win no fee’ basis, or on the basis that payment of fees is deferred until the end of the matter, which means you don’t have to pay fees along the way, and the lawyer gets paid at the end of the matter. Normally, most firms require disbursements (filing fees, expert’s reports and Counsel’s fees) to be paid upfront regardless of what basis they act on. However, if you lose the case you may still be responsible for the otherside’s costs. Uther Webster & Evans sometimes agree to be paid at the end of a matter if there is security for fees (i.e. a property that is to be sold in a family law matter) and you provide an Authority for those fees to be paid on the sale of that property.

At the start of the matter, you should be provided with a cost agreement which sets out the lawyers’ hourly rate and an estimate of costs specific to your matter. You should read this carefully and ensure you agree with the contents of the agreement. Be aware though that this is often an estimate only and costs can quickly increase if a matter is litigated or opposed. You should ask your lawyer to provide you with a monthly update on costs and disbursements so you can keep on top of this and not receive a huge shock at the end of your matter!

Most lawyers charge in 6 minute units, so a lawyer who charges $300 per hour, will charge you $30 per 6 minutes (plus GST). Even if your call is only 2 minutes, you will be charged at a 6 minute unit of $30. This means that the total cost of your matter is dependent upon how much time is spent by the lawyer working on your matter.

Lawyer’s hourly rates are different for the level of experience of the lawyer. The cost agreement you receive should set out the hourly rate for paralegals, junior solicitors, solicitors, associates, senior associates and partners. A general rule is the higher the cost, the more experienced a lawyer. Just because a lawyer charges more though, doesn’t mean they are better for you or will get you a better result.

At Uther Webster & Evans, our lawyers have expertise across several practice areas. This may assist in reducing your fees as you don’t have to seek advice from several lawyers or firms in the one matter which may touch across several areas of law.

Most lawyers will ask you for money to be deposited into their Trust Account before any work is commenced by them. The money requested is on account of costs and disbursements and once these funds are used, the lawyer will normally send you a bill with a breakdown of how those costs have been incurred and requesting further funds be deposited. Uther Webster & Evans will provide you with an itemised bill, showing each time entry and the charge and what work the solicitor undertook.

When you receive a bill, you may notice that a name appears having done work in your matter that you do not know and have not dealt with. Sometimes lawyers will need assistance on matters and other lawyers in the firm will work on a number of matters. At Uther Webster & Evans, we will delegate tasks when appropriate to junior lawyers and paralegals under supervision to assist in keeping your costs down. The lawyer with carriage of your matter will then review the work and finalise the documents.

If you are having difficulties paying your fees, at Uther Webster & Evans, you have access to Fee Pay, which is a service offering our clients loans for up to 2 years to meet their legal expenses. This is often referred to as litigation funding and can assist you at a time when you need it the most.

Keep communication open with your lawyer and if you are not happy with their service, tell them. You are the client and they should work to get you the best possible result.

Most importantly, make sure you feel comfortable with your lawyer. A lawyer/client relationship can only work if there is open and honest communication!