The nasty surprises found by clients on their bills from law firms may soon be a thing of the past following the release of discussion papers on Tuesday that call for legal practitioners to fully disclose expected fees to clients upfront.
The two papers released by the National Legal Profession Reform Taskforce as part of the Council of Australian Government's (COAG) promise for national reform of the legal profession, outline proposals to combat what the Taskforce describes as "overcharging and exploitation of vulnerable legal services consumers".
The Taskforce supports the proposal for a National Legal Services Ombudsman which would receive and act on consumer complaints, make determinations on any unsatisfactory professional conduct, carry out internal reviews of particular decisions and educate the legal profession and the public on the complaints process and ethical issues.
Other proposals by the Taskforce call for legislation requiring law practices to make full disclosures on legal costs to clients, regulate cost arrangements and the billing of such arrangements, and also provide a mechanism for assessing legal costs.
On announcing the public release of the discussion papers, the Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the Taskforce tackles what he believes are two of the most critical areas of legal services that require regulatory reform.
"We need to ensure that consumers of legal services across Australia are afforded consistent protection and remedies, and they can obtain all necessary information to make informed decisions about the conduct of a matter," he said in the statement.
The Taskforce consultation papers call for a public discussion on their recommendations as part of developing uniform legislation for national regulation of the legal profession, with a final report due to be supplied to COAG by April 2010.
The discussion paper can be accessed here.
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