Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 09 Hansard (Tuesday, 25 September 2007) . . Page.. 2585 ..
threshold amount. In addition, there is protection for clients in relation to costs if their retained law firm fails to disclose all required relevant information in relation to costs, including when the firm retains the services of another legal practice for the client’s matter.
There are also guidelines for the recovery of fees by legal firms from their clients. This includes a provision that law firms cannot commence recovery action until 90 days after a fee account has been issued. In cases where a client seeks an itemised bill, this 90-day period does not commence until the itemised bill has been issued, which may push the debt out to 120 days. This may provide certainty for clients. But for law firms, especially small firms, this could put pressure on cash flow and debt management practices. The impact of this provision is something we and, I am sure, the Law Society, will be monitoring. I hope the matter will be addressed as part of the review.
Some costs agreements provide for an uplift fee, or a success fee. New provisions in the bill require lawyers to disclose to their clients how those uplift fees are calculated and justified. Like the requirements in relation to the provision of itemised bills, this provides for a higher level of accountability and openness in law firms and more certainty for clients.
In relation to trusts, money held in trust or in a controlled account cannot be withdrawn in cash, through ATM terminals, or by telephone. Money can only be withdrawn from a trust or controlled account by cheque or electronic funds transfer. These measures seem sensible. In addition, there is a new section requiring that trust money received in cash by a law practice must be deposited into a general trust account of the practice. If any direction attaches to any trust money received in cash then that direction can be dealt with once the money has been deposited into the general trust account. These measures give clients more certainty that their money is treated properly, especially when cash is involved.
For lawyers, both foreign and local, new provisions make it easier for qualified lawyers to practise in the ACT. This potentially eases the skills pressure in the ACT, and in Australia generally as part of the national approach. It also protects ACT clients by creating offences where unqualified or deregistered lawyers engage in legal practice in the ACT. It also clarifies the requirements for lawyers to hold professional indemnity insurance.
As well as the national model bill, the Legal Profession Amendment Bill provides for some ACT-specific amendments. These deal with cost agreements, disciplinary matters and civil liability exemptions. An important provision in the bill is to enable the Supreme Court to set aside a provision of a costs agreement, rather than having to set aside the whole agreement. This is a useful efficiency measure that will save time and further costs for lawyer and client alike.
Another important provision will protect the identity of a legal practitioner who is under investigation for disciplinary matters. Sometimes a complaint against a lawyer is unfounded, and even malicious, and it is unfair, having regard to the reputation of both the lawyer and the legal profession, for the identity of the lawyer under investigation to be revealed publicly until the matter is decided. Of course, the same