Better transparency of legal fees is one way that lawyer's can assist in improving access to justice issues, the Attorney General, Robert McClelland, said at the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) national conference over the weekend.
McClelland said that access to justice is not available for the entire Australian population, a challenge he believes is further exacerbated due to the costs of services involved.
To his audience of predominantly lawyers, McClelland pointed to the specific recommendations the recent Access to Justice Report made in regards to the legal profession - including the need for the promotion of alternative dispute resolutions, the need for dispute resolution in legal education, and the potential for universities to better encourage students to undertake pro bono work in their degrees.
On the issue of legal fees, McClelland noted that the report advocated the improved transparency of legal fees to ensure consumers can understand where their money is going. "Indeed the report noted that many more people would be prepared to walk through lawyers' doors if they had that comfort," he said.
"In short, the legal profession has a very important part to play in ensuring the cost of resolving disputes is proportionate to the issues.
"Equally, legal billing options that increase certainty for clients and encourage efficiency on the part of lawyers must be a priority."
McClelland added that if lawyers can provide their clients with " meaningful estimates of the cost of litigation as it progresses" while also sharing such costs with the courts and other stakeholders in the process, than all parties involved would be able to make better informed decisions about the litigation process.
However, McClelland did point out that many lawyers are already assisting in the process of ensuring all Australians are able to better access justice: "The commitment of Australian lawyers to pro bono services in outstanding," he said. "As is the preparedness of many lawyers to defer receipt payment until the conclusion of matter."
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