A client who receives a 'lump sum' bill of costs from a lawyer and requires more detail or wants to dispute the amount of costs, or the number of items charged, can write to the lawyer and request itemised bill in a detailed form [Legal Practitioners Act 1981 (SA) Sch 3 cl 34]. This request should be in writing and must be made within six months of receiving the lump sum bill. If the lump sum bill has already been paid, it is still possible to write to the lawyer, within a reasonable time of paying the account, requesting an itemised bill.
A bill can be submitted to the Supreme Court for adjudication (assessment) of the costs charged. It is also possible to request taxation of a lump sum bill, but in this case the Master will usually direct the lawyer to give particulars in taxable form (a type of itemised bill). As the taxation procedure can involve further costs to the client, it is much better to obtain the itemised bill before taxation.
An application for adjudication of costs must be made within six months of the bill being given, a request for payment being made of on the bill being paid. The Court may exercise its discretion and allow the matter to proceed although the application has been made out of the six month period. A request for adjudication can be made even though there has been an agreement between the lawyer and the client in relation to costs.
Lawyers who want to have their costs adjudicated in the Supreme Court, must first give a bill to the client. An application cannot be made by a lawyer unless 30 days have passed since the bill was given.
If the client applies for the bill to be adjudicated and the amount of the adjudicated bill is higher than the amount of the original account, the Court can order the client to pay the higher amount [Sch 3 cl 41(4)(b)].
Unless the original amount claimed by a lawyer is significantly reduced, the client probably will be ordered to pay all of the lawyer's costs, including the lawyer's costs of preparing for, and attending, the adjudication. If either the client or the lawyer has proceeded to seek an adjudication after the Legal Profession Conduct Commissioner has made a determination and the client does not obtain more than the amount determined by the Commissioner, the client may be ordered to pay the costs of the adjudication. These costs may be quite high depending on the length of the bill and the time taken on adjudication.
No useful guideline can be given as to the likely outcome of an adjudication, as the costs of a adjudication are at the discretion of the Registrar.
As an unsuccessful adjudication of costs can result in the client having to pay more, it is wise to obtain independent legal advice before proceeding to adjudication.
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.