Not as much as you might think if you listen to some people.
The media don't always give a fair view of what lawyers cost. The stories that make headlines are often the exceptional cases. News stories are short and they don't always have space (or preparation time) to offer any other point of view or to explain why this particular case involved so much more work or took more time than a typical case.
The same goes for stories that people tell if they complain about the costs of a lawyer. Sometimes the client who complains is disappointed with the outcome of a case and blaming the lawyer is a cheap shot. Some politicians and commentators also take cheap shots at lawyers and try to paint all lawyers as being rogues. You should ask yourself "Who do these people turn to when they have a legal issue?" Surveys show that most people like their lawyer and are happy to recommend them.
On the other side of the fence are the thousands of cases handled by lawyers daily that are not news worthy and where the clients do not complain. Surveys show that most people like their lawyer and are happy to recommend them. Lawyers have a professional duty to act in their clients interests ahead of their own interests. The number of disputes that actually reach court are very small compared to the number of disputes that lawyers solve well before then and the number of times they avoid problems arising in the first place.
Do not assume that you cannot afford a lawyer without making some inquiries so you can make your own informed decision.
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If you are involved in a dispute, transaction or document that could have serious consequences then we urge you to at least have an initial interview with a lawyer, legal aid or legal service.
When you make the appointment, check how much experience they have in handling your type of case..
Some initial interviews with lawyers are 'free' and some are not. Many areas of law do not have the option of 'free advice'. Many lawyers think that all of their advice is valuable and that they have as much right to charge as a doctor does for every consultation. Just because they don't have a free interview does not mean that they will always be dearer in the long run.
An initial interview about a dispute should help you know if you have a good case or a bad case, the sort of likely outcomes to expect, your options for trying to resolve the dispute, the risks involved and the likely costs.
An initial interview about a transaction or document should help you know if this is the sort of thing people usually handle themselves, the work involved, what to watch out for, the risks involved and the likely costs.
Sometimes the documents look good to you - until the lawyer explains what has been left out or what is commonly considered to be "a fair thing".
Lawyers look at legal issues in a quite different way to most people and they may well have answers and alternative solutions that you would never have thought of.
Your have more choices than just deciding to hire a lawyer or not to hire a lawyer. There is a growing trend with lawyers to offer 'Unbundled Legal Services'. This means that people do not hire a lawyer to handle the whole of a case or transaction. They just get them to do parts of it.
Your third option then is to discuss with your solicitor which parts you want the lawyer to handle (or to help you with) and what parts you can do on your own.
There are more options than just Legal Aid. There are over a hundred different ways in most States to get legal aid and community legal assistance.
Usually it is only Legal Aid that will help you in the same way as a private lawyer. it is up to you as to whether you choose your own private lawyer who is paid by Legal Aid, or if you see one of Legal Aid's lawyers.
Foolkit's Choosing A Lawyer Page also has information about the different fee arrangements that a lawyer might consider. Such as no fee or a reduced fee if you don't win - but a larger fee if you do win.
One of the most common areas that people handle their own cases are divorce, small debts and small criminal or traffic offences where it is quite clear who is in the right or the wrong.
Do not expect lawyers to give you copies of standard documents. There are few standard situations, standard people and standard transactions.
When a lawyer uses a "standard" document he has applied his skill in knowing that this is the right document for this occasion. The lawyers usually tailor each document before they use it. They worry that if they give a document to you that you may make changes when you don't understand the legal implications of this.