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What lawyers should know about costs and the Uniform Law

What lawyers should know about costs and the Uniform Law

By Steven Sapountsis

Uniform Laws 

The Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act 2014 (Vic) (the Act) which set up the structure and bodies for a new national regulatory scheme for Victorian lawyers was assented to on 25 March 2014 with the first of its provisions commencing on 1 July 2014. Schedule 1 of the Act is the Legal Profession Uniform Law (the Uniform Law) which commenced on 1 July 2015. The Uniform Law provides for a lawyer’s entitlement to practise and manner of practice – including the charging and recovery of costs. I have assumed that it is mainly the Uniform Law and the Legal Profession General Rules 2015 (Vic) (the General Rules) that lawyers have in mind when they have asked me or commented: How could the LIV have allowed such a law to be passed? and Just read the Act, amend your precedents accordingly and get on with the business of attending to your client’s needs. These apparently contrary views of the new legislative regime can be reconciled if one accepts that most lawyers agree with and promote a client’s entitlement to clear and accurate information about costs, but may disagree as to the means by which that can be achieved in the provision of legal services. The difficulties in legislating for costs disclosure, the charging of costs and costs recovery, broadly speaking, are heightened because: the obligations are sought to be imposed at the commencement of a fiduciary relationship between a lawyer and their client, a relationship which itself carries certain obligations and constraints on the lawyer, and peculiarly among the professions, for a significant portion of legal services offered by lawyers, there is often a third party (or parties) over whom the lawyer has no control, working against the interests of the lawyer’s client and often working actively to thwart the client achieving a particular outcome or goal. The best means by which a government can, or should, legislate to affect that fiduciary relationship is a topic for another day. Today, I will highlight some of the practicalities of complying with the new legislative regime, and alert you to what may be some of the lesser known provisions of the Uniform Law or General Rules that affect your obligations to disclose and right to charge or recover costs. The LIV has already provided considerable advice and educational materials on those subjects. Since the commencement of the Uniform Law, the LIV has extended the operating hours of the Practice Support Line and has received hundreds of enquiries from members about the new regime. The majority of questions relate to costs obligations under the Uniform Law.

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