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Ethical question about Lawyers fees and billing

In my family law matter I initially approached a friend of the family who is a solicitor for advice about my parenting matters and separation from my partner. She did the groundwork for me and I was very grateful but she wasn't on the legal aid panel and I was out of money, so she recommended me to another female lawyer who was local and had a good reputation, and was on the legal aid panel. I went to meet with her and was impressed and she agreed to take on my case.

Shortly thereafter I was accused by the mother of sexually abusing my daughter, and I freaked out (naturally). I was refused legal aid, and told I had to put $3000 in the lawyers trust account before they would act for me. My lawyer then said she was very busy and I got handballed to one of her associates, who has handled my matter since then. He is competent, but I am not so impressed with him. Anyway, I'm emailing them all this info and documents and stuff and trying to get advice over weeks. Then they send me a bill for around $8400, having never even given me a schedule of fees. I didn't know I was being charged $50+ every time I sent an email to them! The $3k 'deposit' was taken off the top of this bill. I was just sent a fee agreement on May with the latest invoice for an additional $1850, taking my total debt to $7250 and all that has happened is that the FMC has handballed my matter to the FC, and I don't even have a date for hearing. Not a lot to show for $10k, certainly no daughter… at all! Meanwhile, my ex IS getting Legal Aid to persecute her agenda of alienation against me through the court, and she's not even an Australian citizen, but has residency because I was her sponsor for a partner visa! Anyway, I digress…

My questions are - How ethical is it for a solicitor to NOT provide a schedule of fees before taking on a client, AND to then let them run up a bill over several months before issuing an invoice? What recourse do I have to challenge the invoice(s) I have been charged for services without having a fee agreement?

All invoices should be itemised, and every dollar of costs accounted for. If the invoices aren't itemised, ask the firm to send through something which details how the invoice total came to be.

Strictly speaking they shouldn't have done anything on your behalf without you being issued a service and cost agreement. That agreement also needs to be signed and returned to the firm. That's their authority to act on your behalf, and your consent to their fees and charges.

Charging you $50 because you sent them an email is ridiculous.

If you genuinely disagree with the total costs then advise the firm in writing. If they fail to act or won't budge with what seems like an inflated cost then you could also complain to the law society in your state.
If that is the case then you should not have to pay the bill as they are not acting legally. If they give you a hard time refer the legal practitioner to your local Legal Practitioner Complaints Board and they will take care of them.
I'm advised that my lawyers rates are 'middle of the road' and I don't dispute the work that I have been billed for, my gripe is that for months I had no idea what I was being charged for reading and responding to my emails and reading attachments I was sending to add to my file. I've decided to write to them and ask for a 25% discount off the total invoice. If they can't be reasonable then I will find another lawyer.
I think you need to put a complaint against their illegal invoice in the legal practitioner complaint service and don't go down so easly they have been charging you with wrong invoices.
Turns out I've been granted legal aid retrospectively to last September, so now they owe me a refund. Things are looking up.  :)
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