The fees charged by barristers vary according to their professional experience, the area of law they are working in, and their expertise. These fees will be usually charged to a client through their lawyer (the 'instructing solicitor').
Under the Legal Profession Act 2004 (see Part 3.4 - Costs disclosure and review), all Victorian legal practitioners/law practices must provide an estimate of the amount of fees involved to their client before, or as soon as practicable after being engaged to undertake legal work.
If a barrister is to be engaged, the instructing solicitor should include details of those fees plus the following information as to the barrister's fees:
- the basis upon which legal costs are calculated
- an estimate of the total legal costs, or if it is not reasonably practicable to estimate the total legal costs, a range of estimates of total legal costs together with an explanation of the major variables that will affect the calculation of costs
- when bills are to be rendered.
This process for notifying total fees is known as 'costs disclosure' from which there some limited exclusions including some categories of (mainly corporate) clients and/or if the total amount will be less than $750.
The legal practitioner/law practice must then enter into a written 'costs agreement' with their client before commencing work which becomes operable only when it is accepted by the client in writing or equivalent action.
There is an ongoing obligation for legal practitioners/law practices to provide an updated advice to their clients if the estimated total amount of fees is expected to exceed the amount previously notified.
The costs disclosure provisions of the Legal Profession Act 2004 apply in the same way to barristers who accept direct access briefs.
The fees charged by barristers are often quite flexible, since the amount will vary according to whether advice or advocacy is required. Other factors that might affect the fee will be the estimated duration of a hearing in a court or tribunal and the physical location of the hearing - for instance, whether it is scheduled to be held in a city centre or a regional centre. The amount of the fee is negotiated by discussion with the barrister's clerk.
Apart from market forces, there is no restriction on what fees a barrister can charge. Most often you will find a barrister's fees to be highly competitive.
Members of the Victorian Bar are mindful of, and committed to, the principle that access to the courts should be open to all members of the community. In some circumstances, barristers may choose to provide their services 'pro bono' - that is, they will not charge a client. Similarly they may charge at a reduced rate.
If you believe that you may not be able to afford legal representation, there are a number of services that may be able to assist you.