It was interesting to both hear and read the Key Note address by our Federal Attorney General Hon Robert McLelland MP at the 36th Australian Legal Convention in Perth last week on his Access to Justice Taskfoce found at the following link:
wherein the Attorney stated that;
“In addition to information failure,the cost of legal services is undoubtedly a major barrier to people accessing the justice system…….The perception,true or otherwise,that engaging a lawyer will be too costly discourages many from seeking legal advice.The perception is difficult to shift when many lawyers remain wedded to a time sheet that is based on time rather than outcomes. In some ways that system rewards ineffeciency over value………. improving the transparency of legal costs and the way they are calculated is one way in which this situation can be improved…..this will allow consumers to meaningfully assess the value of legal services they receive and encourage greater competition in the legal market.”
With due respect to The Attorney whilst I of course agree with his entiments about the time sheet rewarding time rather than outcome,and inefficiency over value I am not convinced improving transparency is the way to go. “Transparency” to legislators and regulators often means the breakdown of costs,tasks,time and the like which in my view takes the focus away from where The Attorney says he wants to head-to value. Why should a client care what the “cost” to the lawyer is or how that cost is broken down as long as he/she is happy with the value and outcome being provided, and moreover if he/she has agreed both the value to be provided and the cost to the client of that value up front?
Less not more government regulation is what is probably needed with greater emphasis and regulatory flexibility on outcomes and value rather than the cost of a folio, a photocopy or a telephone call.
How a regulator or any third party can ever assess value to a client is beyond me however. Value is and always will be subjective and can only ever be ultimately assessed by one party-the client.
I am pleased however to see reported that pending Government review of regulations where the federal government as a heavy user of legal services can be a leader of positive change by making governent departments engage legal services on an event basis instead of accepting time billing.
If various State government departments start adopting this model as well-as have an increasing number of corporates-we may see a mindset change yet from our profession which will lessen the reliance on continued increased government regulation and scrutiny most of which only adds to the cost of justice in Australia.