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Legal Fees in Family Law matters – How to get them under control?

Posted by Malcolm Gittoes-Caesar on 15 Dec 2017

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 dealing with solicitor misconduct) 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.

The fees expended by one party were approximately $325,000.00 – the other party expended approximately $500,000.00.

There is no question that, on any objective assessment, those fees are uncommon.  However, it has been my experience that fees can be incurred over a lengthy period of time and dealing with another party that will not be reasonable in their approach to the matter.  Fees of that magnitude do not, in my view, mean that there is some form of misconduct. 

The most important consideration is to take steps to ensure that a situation like that does not happen to you.  Coleman Greig has given real thought to how it is that fees can be minimised.  There are certain things that we, as a firm, can do, but there are other things that you, as a client, need to do.

The steps that can be taken to minimise costs in family law matters, are as follows:-

  1. Having the right person do the right task – at Coleman Greig, we have hourly rates that vary by $415.00 per hour.  That is a very wide range, and is reflective of the experience and expertise of the various people within the Coleman Greig Family Law Team.  Coleman Greig will always use its best endeavours to ensure that the right person is doing the right task.
  2. Take the “heat” out of matters – clients are invariably angry with their separated partner, and often wish to ensure that their anger is conveyed through correspondence written by us.  One of the features of the Judgment of Justice Benjamin referred to above is that the correspondence in those proceedings evidenced an inability by the solicitors to act in such a way as to take the “heat” out of the matter.  Justice Benjamin said “Solicitors are not employed as “postmen” to vent the anger and vitriol of their client”.  We at Coleman Greig will not enter into “tit for tat” communications, which will simply increase your fees unnecessarily.  If you wish to engage a solicitor that will enter into this sort of communication then consideration should be given to the appropriate firm to represent you.
  3. Mediation – all steps will be taken in a matter to ensure that Court is very much viewed as a “last resort”.  Litigating is a situation whereby you are putting those things that are most important to you (your possessions and children) into the hands of a stranger to make decisions on your behalf.  Any decision that you can arrive at with your separated partner without the need for litigation, is one that is likely to prove to be far more satisfactory (and not only from a fee perspective).  Coleman Greig always ensure that all possible alternative dispute resolution avenues are explored prior to proceedings being commenced.
  4. Arbitration – involves the matter being heard before an Arbitrator.  The Arbitrator’s award takes the same effect as if it was an order made by a Court.
  5. Work to be done by you – where appropriate, we will ask you to complete Court forms or otherwise undertake review of financial documents, to save you needing to pay the fees of us doing so.
  6. Acceptance of our advice – often, proposals will be put that we believe are commercial.  There will be times that we will counsel a client to accept an offer.   It is because we understand the facts of your matter, the way in which a Court is likely to deal with them, and the costs that you will incur in pursuing your claim before the Courts.  Coleman Greig will always counsel you to accept reasonable proposals, or to put reasonable proposals to the other side.
  7. Accredited Specialist – at Coleman Greig we have three Accredited Specialists.  Being an Accredited Specialist in Family Law means that the Law Society of New South Wales has recognised each practitioner, through undertaking a course of further study, to be an expert in that area.
  8. Updates – Coleman Greig will, at all times, give you a realistic estimate of your fees at the start of a matter and, acknowledging that matters almost always change in complexity and complexion, will provide estimates to give certainty as a matter progresses.

If you are considering separating, and giving thought to who it is that may represent you in your family law matter, careful consideration needs to be given to the points raised above.  Coleman Greig is committed to ensuring that clients receive the best possible service, and that fees be charged that are as reasonable as possible given the circumstances of any individual matter. 

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