“The overwhelming majority of the legal profession act with integrity,” NSW Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos said today. He said there had been an upsurge in the number of lawyers grossly overcharging clients, particular those clients with limited English-language skills.
But today’s Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) meeting in Canberra will consider allegations against gross overcharging. "The NSW Government has developed a package of options that seek to ensure greater transparency and accountability in the area of legal fees," Hatzistergos said.
Among other things, lawyers will have to provide periodic, itemised bills to clients in personal injury matters under the proposed new rules.
The top legal officers will discuss a potential prohibition on firms charging excessive costs as well as fines for breaches and a new regulation under which law firm principals only can approve bills.
The attorneys hope the options will send a strong message to law firms that overcharging vulnerable clients is unacceptable. "The risk of having an adverse finding against a law practice would make its principals careful to ensure their firm is compliant with the law," Hatzistergos said.
Hatzistergos said he would ask his colleagues at the SCAG meeting today to consider the NSW options and refer them to a national working party.