Lawyers Must Deliver Affordable Justice: Report
19 November 2013 at 10:33 am
Many people requiring legal assistance are missing out because the legal profession often charges extraordinary prices for what should be an essential and ordinary service, an RMIT University report has found.
The report by the Centre for Innovative Justice (CIJ) has found people with modest means are most likely to be deprived of justice because they earn too much to qualify for free legal services but cannot afford exorbitant legal fees.
The report on affordable justice in the private legal services market identifies five key problems with the current system:
- the tyranny of the billable hour, where lawyers charge according to time, and fees are open-ended
- a lack of available information about how much individual lawyers charge and whether their charges are reasonable
- lawyers ‘hunting in packs’ – with clients having to pay for whole teams of solicitors, barristers and paralegals
- a lack of innovation and little incentive for the legal profession to change
- lawyers expecting to make a disproportionate profit margin.
Director of the CIJ, Adjunct Professor Rob Hulls, said there were a range of innovative practices across the legal system that had the capacity to make the delivery of legal assistance more affordable.
But he said there was a need to do more to bridge the gap between government- funded assistance and the prohibitive fees often charged by the private profession.
“While many in the private profession work hard to serve the interests of the disadvantaged, just as many have lost perspective about reasonable levels of remuneration and sustainable ways of operating,” Adjunct Professor Hulls said.
“Our aim is to highlight emerging innovations and the potential that may lie in developing and delivering them in a strategic and supported way.”
The report offers a number of suggestions for reform, including:
- an increased focus on legal consumers through the establishment of a Legal Consumer Advocate;
- greater transparency and predictability about what lawyers actually charge;
- the establishment of websites for consumers to rate and review lawyer affordability;
- investment in support for innovative business practices;
- more widespread use of fixed fees and access to legal assistance for discrete tasks rather than unlimited engagements.
The report, funded through a $300,000 Federal Government grant, has been provided to the Productivity Commission’s Access to Justice inquiry. The report is available online at rmit.edu.au/innovativejustice