Apply to dispute legal costs or seek compensation
We hear cases about disputed legal costs under laws that apply specifically to the legal profession:
- Legal Profession Uniform Law - schedule 1 of the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act 2014
- Legal Profession Act 2004 (the 2004 Act)
We also hear cases under laws that relate to services generally
- Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012.
- Fair Trading Act 1999
Applying under legal profession laws
If you are a client and want to bring a costs dispute or a compensation application to VCAT under the legal profession laws, the costs provisions that apply depends on the date you first instructed the lawyer.
- If you first instructed the lawyer on or after 1 July 2015 your case will be determined according to the costs provisions of the Legal Profession Uniform Law (Victoria) - schedule 1 of the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act 2014.
- If you first instructed the lawyer before 1 July 2015, your case falls under the costs provisions of the 2004 Act.
Before applying to VCAT you must first ask the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner to help you resolve your dispute. If the Legal Services Commissioner has not been able to resolve the dispute they provide a notice that gives you permission to apply to VCAT. You must include the notice with your application. Time limits apply.
Limits to costs and compensation
Under both the Legal Profession Uniform Law (Victoria) and the Legal Profession Act 2004 clients can dispute legal costs but there are some limits to VCAT's jurisdiction.
Costs less than $25,000
We can only hear disputes if the costs in dispute are $25,000 or less. We cannot award more than $25,000 compensation.
Where the costs in dispute are less than $25,000, the client may apply to ether VCAT or to the Costs Court.
Where costs are over $25,000 you may only take your claim to the Costs Court.
Costs less than $10,000
Where the Legal Profession Uniform Law (Victoria) applies, and the costs in dispute are less than $10,000 the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner generally makes a determination as to costs payable. This is binding on the lawyer but not the client.
Applying under Australian Consumer laws
If you are a client disputing legal costs or if you are seeking compensation for losses you say your lawyer caused, you may apply to us under the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012 without involving the Legal Services Commissioner. Read the information on the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner website first and consider whether they can help you resolve your dispute.
You can also apply under this Act if the Legal Services Commissioner has finished dealing with a civil complaint but the time limits under the Legal Profession Act 2004 have passed. You can also apply under these Acts if your claim for money is outside the limits of the Legal Services Commissioner's powers.
If your claim relates to legal services provided before 1 July 2012, you should make it under the Fair Trading Act 1999.
Respond to an application
If you are a legal practitioner and a client applies to VCAT to dispute legal costs or claim losses they say you caused, you can respond to their claim. Read more about responding to an application.
Before you apply
As a client who has a dispute with a legal practitioner, try to resolve the dispute with the legal practitioner first. If that fails, you can apply to the Legal Services Commissioner. You can only apply to VCAT under Legal Profession Uniform Law or the Legal Profession Act 2004 if the Legal Services Commissioner has not been able to resolve your case.
You must specify the applicable law when completing the application form. If the case has been before the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner and they have not been able to resolve the matter you must attach the notice from the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner that gives you permission to apply to VCAT. Time limits apply. Refer to the notice to see how much time you have.
Need help with your application?
VCAT cannot give you legal advice. Seek legal help if you are unsure about your legal options. The following services may be able to help you:
Do I need a lawyer or professional representative?
If you want to be represented by a lawyer or some other professional representation at the final hearing tell the member at the directions hearing.
The VCAT member who conducts the final hearing grants or refuses permission for you to be represented. Generally the member grants permission except in cases involving amounts under $10,000.
Find free or low-cost legal services that may be able to assist you.
Access and privacy
VCAT hearings and files are usually public.
VCAT has limited authority to restrict who can access cases and files but, in certain circumstances, you can apply for confidentiality. For more about applying for confidentiality.
Legislation that applies to this type of case
Cases VCAT can hear
We can hear cases from
- clients disputing legal costs
- clients claiming compensation for they allege their lawyer has caused.
Under the Legal Profession Uniform Law (Victoria) - schedule 1 of the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act 2014 - or the Legal Profession Act 2004 we can hear costs dispute and compensation cases that the Legal Services Commissioner has dealt with but has not been able to resolve.
Under the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012 or the Fair Trading Act 1999 we can hear costs dispute cases without involving the Legal Services Commissioner. We can also hear cases under these Acts after the Legal Services Commissioner has finished dealing with a civil complaint and the time limits under the Legal Profession Act 2004 have passed.
When VCAT receives your application we assign a reference number and send a copy of the application to the respondent. The respondent receives a covering letter and a complete copy of the application. We also send you a notice that tells you what happens next. For example you may be required to attend a directions hearing, a compulsory conference or mediation. Read more about what happens when VCAT opens a case.
At VCAT we use compulsory conferences and mediation to allow the parties to work together towards a settlement. If you have been told to attend a compulsory conference or mediation, you need to prepare an opening statement. Use the opening statement to clearly state your case and what you hope to achieve. It can be a helpful starting point for discussion between the parties. You also need to think about the strengths and weaknesses of your case and the other party's case. See more about how to resolve a case by agreement.
A VCAT member decides the case based on witness statements, the evidence witnesses give at the hearing and the documents presented. The member also takes into account any submissions the parties make. As soon as you receive the notice of hearing from us, start preparing for the hearing. Read more about how to prepare for your final hearing.
Arrive at VCAT with plenty of time so that you are not late for your hearing. When your case is called, move into the hearing room. Parties have the opportunity to make statements in support of their case. Each party has a brief right of reply. Read more about what to expect on hearing day.
The VCAT member may give their decision at the end of the hearing. If they need more time they normally give a decision within six weeks of the last hearing date. The VCAT member may give reasons for the decision verbally or in writing. If you want the reasons in writing, make the request within 14 days of the hearing date. Read more about what to expect after the final hearing.