15 Jan 2018

$120k lawyer's fee 'excessive and unjustified'

7:57 pm on 15 January 2018

A lawyer who tried to charge a client a $120,000 cancellation fee was unreasonable, the Law Society has found.

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Photo: SunLive

The lawyer, whose name has been withheld, tried to charge the fee after an eight-week trial was abandoned when his client pleaded guilty at a sentence indication hearing.

The fees were set out in a letter to the client, stating that the lawyer - who charged $8000 per day in court - had committed to the trial and had not been able to take on other work during that time.

It also stated that if the full eight weeks were not required, a fee the equivalent of one additional week in court would be added to reflect that commitment.

The lawyer charged the client two fees - $128,000 for the actual work done, which was described as "preparation", and the $120,000 described as the "trial fee".

The trial fee in this case was the lawyer's cancellation fee.

The client complained to the Law Society, saying that he had no complaint about the services but about the cancellation.

Although he had accepted the lawyer's proposal of a one-week cancellation fee, and had paid $40,000 to cover that, he disputed the additional $80,000 added to the fee.

But the lawyer hit back, saying the balance was appropriate, and also noted that he had given the client a $32,000 discount on the preparation fee.

In its decision, the Law Society's standards committee said that there was no contractual basis for the cancellation fee and it was excessive and unjustified.

The committee stated that although the balance of the fee was high, the lawyer had not exploited a vulnerable client.