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Legal fees > Fee Agreements

Fee Agreements

Various court cases have held that attorneys who do work without signing fee agreements should expect to find themselves in the same situation as someone who lends money without an acknowledgment of debt - that is, with very little protection!  The first thing any competent attorney should do is go through a fee agreement with you and make sure you understand it - and sign it.  An example of a fee agreement is provided at the back of this book.  Fee agreements take all forms, although some Law Societies have recommended ones and most attorneys would have based theirs to some extent on this.  There are of course many variations but the basics would be the same - getting you to agree on an hourly rate for services rendered.  Getting guidelines on what is reasonable is almost impossible - especially after the Pretoria Attorneys Association were fined R250 000 by the Competition Commission who hate such things, for giving their members very reasonable guidelines (some attorneys thought the recommendations to be too low).  In any event attorneys are meant to consider their experience, expertise in the field, physical area where they practice, the cost of running their practice and fees charged by other attorneys doing similar work in the area when deciding on their fees.  This leads to situations where you may be charged anywhere from R600 an hour to R3500 an hour - and anomalies abound - a top divorce attorney in Johannesburg may be charging R1800 an hour for example, while a more junior attorney doing commercial work at a major large firm for corporate clients may find his work being charged out at R2500 an hour.  Typically, for an attorney with say ten years experience, based in Johannesburg's northern suburbs, you would be paying about R1800 to R3200 an hour in 2011 with typical yearly fee increases of 10% at the current time (attorneys take a more cautious approach to the slowing inflation rate!).  This is ultimately what people refer to as attorney-client fees - in other words, what your attorney charges you.  What you win back in Court is party and party fees. 

  • Understand an accept that a professional, competent attorney will expect you to sign a fee agreement that you may not like the look of
     
  • That you need to shop around beforehand based on experience and costs and decide who is best for you
     
  • That you must clarify all aspects of the fee agreement you a re unsure about before you sign any agreement
     
  • Take it home and read it before returning it if you are unsure - or want more time to read it with friends or familyere's the important part though - the attorney, if he or she does not get you to sign a fee agreement (or if you signed a fee agreement without appropriate reference to, and understanding of the party and party tariff) is in fact more than likely going to be tied to the party and party court scale.   The party and party court tariffs are the costs you win back from the other side when you win your case - and they are much lower than attorneys charge - at about R470 a hour in the Magistrates Court and R800 an hour in the High Court.  That's putting it fairly simply, because the costs are broken down into different items, but that is the typical rate.  In other words, no fee agreement and that is the likely hourly rates that the taxing master will apply to your attorney's bill of costs.  Of course taxing masters do have discretion, the attorney can argue the matter and Taxing Masters at different courts, even at the same courts, all seem to apply their own interpretations of various points.