RISING LEGAL costs result not so much from high fees being charged but rather the amount of time being claimed for particular tasks, said the Chief Justice of the High Court, Murray Gleeson.
In his last weeks before compulsory departure from the High Court upon turning 70, Justice Gleeson told Lawyers Weekly that a significant change during his years in the profession had been what he called the “mercantilisation” of the law.
Justice Gleeson said there was a difficult conflict between professionalism and a need to be commercial — one that modern legal professionals must now work to reconcile. While he’s confident the profession will work itself out, he’s concerned about the rising costs that clients currently endure.
“The cost of litigation is the biggest blot on the common law system of justice,” he said, before referring to the times when he was in practice and courts exercised a closer regulation over legal costs than now.
“I’m not suggesting that should be reintroduced, I’m not generally in favour of price control or price fixing,” he said. “I think there are ethical obligations that legal professionals have to keep in mind, and costs are included in that.”
Citing the growing costs of discovery, Gleeson said he was concerned about the ability of clients to check up on how their lawyers were spending their time. “I also believe that most clients wouldn’t have any idea, and would have no way of finding out, whether the amount of time that is devoted by lawyers to a case is reasonable,” he said.
“It would be a very naïve person who thought that excessive costs are only, or even primarily, the result of excessive rates,” he said. “It’s far more likely to be the result of an excessive amount of time being applied to a particular legal task.”
See the full story from the interview in next week’s Lawyers Weekly