Dispute legal costs or seek compensation
We hear cases about disputed legal costs and compensation claims regarding legal services.
Cases VCAT can hear
We can hear cases from:
- clients of lawyers (including law firms, solicitors and barristers) disputing legal costs
- clients claiming compensation for damage or loss they allege their lawyer has caused
- lawyers seeking to recover unpaid legal costs from their clients.
Under the Legal Profession Uniform Law (Victoria), we can hear costs disputes where both of the following conditions are met:
- the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner has dealt with the costs dispute but has not been able to resolve it
- the costs in dispute are less than $37,345 (for applications made in the year ending 30 June 2023).
The Legal Profession Uniform Law (Victoria) is in Schedule 1 of the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act 2014.
Under the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012, we can hear disputes about costs and legal services. This includes claims of negligence, breach of contract or breach of the Australian Consumer Law consumer guarantees and protections. There is no monetary limit. You can immediately apply to VCAT, but you may want to consider first contacting the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner who may be able to help you resolve the dispute.
The Australian Consumer Law is in Schedule 2 to the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth).
Cases we can't help with
- We can't hear some cases where one party lives in another state or is a Commonwealth government organisation
- We can't accept cases heard under federal law instead of Victorian law.
- Only the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner can apply for disciplinary orders against a lawyer. We can't make disciplinary orders in a dispute about legal costs or legal services.
- We can't hear cases brought by a beneficiary of a deceased estate disputing legal fees charged to the estate as:
- it is the executor of the estate that is the client of the law firm and who is the party that may initiate a costs dispute under the Legal Profession Uniform Law (Victoria)
- a beneficiary of an estate is not a 'purchaser' of any legal services provided to the estate, such that there is no consumer-trader dispute for the purposes of the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012.
- We can't hear cases where court proceedings have already started, unless it's a claim for $15,000 or less being heard in the Magistrates' Court and one of the following applies:
- under section 188(2) of the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012 a Magistrate has made an order staying the court proceedings so that the dispute can be heard by VCAT, and a copy of that order is attached to the VCAT application
- under section 189 of the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012 the Magistrates' Court proceedings are against a client, have not been heard yet and the client lodges the whole of the amount claimed against them with VCAT when they file their VCAT application, and have attached a copy of the Magistrates' Court Complaint. The money lodged will then be held in the VCAT Small Claims suspense account. VCAT will notify the Magistrates' Court of the application to VCAT and lodgement of the money.
Costs disputes under the Legal Profession Uniform Law
Before applying to VCAT under the Legal Profession Uniform Law (Victoria) you must first ask the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner to help you resolve your dispute.
If the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner can't resolve the dispute they provide a notice that gives you permission to apply to VCAT. You must include the notice with your application.
Who can apply?
Lawyers and their clients can apply about disputed costs.
We can accept applications where the disputed costs are $37,345 or less. We cannot award more than this amount in compensation.
If costs are over $37,345, you must take your claim to the Costs Court.
When applying under this legislation about costs less than $11,665 (currently), the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner generally decides the costs payable. This is binding on the lawyer but not the client.
You must apply within 60 days after receiving written notice from the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner. The notice must state the dispute was not been resolved by the Commissioner and you have the right to apply to VCAT.
If the 60-day time limit is about to expire, you may be able to apply by email rather than using the application form. Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org to confirm.
Applying under Australian Consumer law
As the client of a lawyer
If you're a client of a lawyer and you want to dispute legal costs or are seeking compensation for losses you say your lawyer caused, you can apply under the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012.
You can immediately apply to VCAT, but you may want to first contact the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner who may be able to help you resolve the dispute.
As a lawyer
If you're a lawyer who has complied with your cost disclosure obligations, you can apply under the Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012 to recover unpaid legal costs from your clients.
Limits to the applications you can make
There is no monetary limit to claims under this Act, but generally VCAT cannot:
- compensate a person for non-monetary losses, except for personal injuries (up to $10,000)
- make non-monetary orders (for example, order an apology).
Respond to an application
If you're a legal practitioner whose client has applied to VCAT to dispute legal costs or claim losses they say you caused, you can respond to their claim.
If you're a client whose lawyer seeks to recover unpaid legal costs through VCAT, you can respond to the claim.
Before you apply
Try to resolve your dispute with the other party first. The Victorian Legal Services Commissioner may also be able to help you.
When applying, make sure you attach:
- any costs agreement or cost disclosure documents
- the notice from the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner, if your claim is made under the Legal Profession Uniform Law (Victoria).
We can explain the application process and what the form is asking you for. Contact us to get support.
We can't give you legal advice. This means we can't tell you what to write in your application or recommend how to get the outcome you want.
Seek legal help if you're unsure about your options or need advice about your claim.
Do I need a lawyer or professional representative?
If you want to be represented by a lawyer at the final hearing, we will generally grant permission.
Find legal services that may be able to assist you.
Parties to VCAT cases generally bear the cost of their own case. VCAT cannot award costs:
- if the claim is for less than $15,000
- for a party's own time (including lawyers who represent themselves).
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.
Legislation that applies to this type of case