If you think you have a legal problem you may require a lawyer. It is always important to get the right advice from the right place. The following eight topic areas provide valuable information on the most frequently asked questions asked by members of the community. These include such things as when the most appropriate time is to go and see a lawyer and the kind of information you may need to know while engaging with the legal system in Western Australia.
What a Lawyer can do to help
There are many tasks which a lawyer may assist with. This can range from receiving one-off legal advice on your available options, prepare or assist you with your documents, or representing you in court.
There are differences between legal information, legal advice and getting representation. Lawyers can assist with any of these areas depending on their capacity and specialisations, however each incur their own costs and benefits.
It is important for you to understand these differences to make sure you get appropriate and relevant assistance which meets your needs.
Differences between a practising and non-practising lawyer
A non-practising lawyer has completed a law degree but may not have completed the requirements to be admitted or may not hold a valid practising certificate. They are unable to provide legal advice under the law that governs the legal profession in Western Australia.
A practising lawyer is a lawyer who has been admitted with approval from the legal practice board of Western Australia. They hold a current and valid practising certificate and have met the requirements to be admitted including:
- Recognised academic qualifications;
- Completion of Recognised Practical Legal Training (PLT); and
- Be a fit and proper person.
A practising lawyer is able to provide legal advice under the law. It is important to go to a practising lawyer for valid legal advice. The Legal Practice Board of Western Australia can confirm if a Practising Lawyer is admitted to practice law in Western Australia.
Legal information is any information which is informative on legal issues and topics. It can be found through resources available on the internet, at public libraries, and through lectures and seminars. However legal information will not be specific to your circumstances and does not constitute legal advice. It may however, provide you with an understanding to the background to your matter. Most resources are available for free, but be wary of individuals who are not lawyers providing specific legal advice.
Generally, lawyers do not provide advice online, however they may send correspondence online. The Law Society of Western Australia has produced this factsheet on unlawfully engaging in legal work.
State Administrative Tribunal (SAT)
The primary place for the review of decisions made by Government agencies, public officials and local governments. is the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT). The SAT deals with a wide range of areas, including: Guardianship and Administration; Commercial Tenancy; Strata Titles; Equal Opportunity; Adoptions
Available Online Resources:
Selecting a Lawyer who is right for you
Before selecting a lawyer, consider your matter and what kind of assistance you may require. It is in your best interest to engage a lawyer who is experienced in the area of law which you require assistance.
When choosing your lawyer, it is suggested you compare different lawyers’ experience and costs.
Please see our ‘How do I find a lawyer or legal service?’ to find further information.
What kind of Lawyer do I need?
Lawyers have specialisations in specific areas of law. The table below may assist you in finding an appropriate lawyer.
AREA OF LAW
AREAS OF ASSISTANCE
Divorce & Separation; Child matters; Family Violence restraining orders; child custody; Family Court orders; criminal injuries compensation
Traffic offences, applying for bail, appearing in Court, Appealing Court judgements, Trial; criminal injuries compensation
Buying & selling your home; tenancy law; strata
Rural land issues; pollution & EPA; property development
Wills & Estates
Making a will, setting up a trust, being an executor
Unfair dismissal; harassment; worker’s compensation
Medical claims, public liability, asbestos, car accident injuries
Faulty goods, class actions, goods not fit for purpose
Patents, trademarks, copyright
Trade or business expenses, failure to file, joint liability
Partner visas, migrating to Australia, refugee & protection claims, student or work visas
Banking & Finance
Starting or closing a business, buying a franchise business, debt recovery
Areas of Law in which Lawyers can work
Some of the issues that a lawyer may be able to help you with include:
- legal advice;
- preparing a will;
- buying or selling property or business;
- setting up and running a business;
- protecting your rights;
- debt and bankruptcy guidance;
- insurance and finance;
- family law;
- motor vehicle accidents;
- help with immigration issues;
- personal injury claims and compensation;
- employment issues; and/or
- Consumer protection.
Jurisdiction & the Western Australian Legal System
The applicability of a legal decision or judgement is called jurisdiction. For example, in Western Australia, the extent of power to make legal decisions and judgements by Western Australian courts and tribunals is limited to Western Australia. If a matter does not have jurisdiction in Western Australian Courts, many lawyers will not assist on that matter as they are not qualified in other Australian jurisdictions which may have different processes and laws. Therefore, it is important to understand whether your legal matter has jurisdiction in Western Australia.
Generally speaking, if a legal matter occurred in Western Australia, it has Western Australian jurisdiction. However this is not always the case. Below is the list of Courts and Tribunals that operate either at a State or Federal level. Further information on each of the Courts or Tribunals can be found on their respective websites.
Further information on the legal services provided in Western Australia can be found at the Department of Justice.
Legal Services in:
There are costs associated with seeing a lawyer. However, the cost will depend on the type of assistance you are seeking. For example, a one-off legal advice appointment may incur different prices to ongoing legal representation. Representation at Court proceedings usually attracts additional costs on top of usual appointment fees.
Clients have a right to negotiate a client engagement agreement with their lawyer prior to signing, request an itemised bill, or ask for written reports about the progress of their matter at any time that the lawyer is engaged. It is important from both a legal and ethical standpoint that clients are well informed about these rights and lawyers remain mindful of their duties and obligations.
The Law on charging clients
The legal profession is highly regulated, therefore the costs which a lawyer can charge you are set out within the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act 2022. Therefore, you as the client have certain rights regarding what you can or cannot be charged for.
Client Engagement Agreements – Retainers – Costs Disclosure
It is good practice for lawyers to put in place a comprehensive and comprehensible Client Engagement Agreement (CEA) for each matter for all clients.
Where the estimated costs of the matter exceed $3000 and the client does not fall within the definition of a “commercial or government client”, as they are defined in section 170(2) of the Legal Profession Uniform Law (the LPUL), compliance with costs disclosure obligations in sections 174 to 177 of the LPUL.
If a lawyer fails to comply with the obligations, then any costs agreement is void and the client is not required to pay costs until they have been assessed or determined (section 178 of the LPUL).
The Client Engagement Process
A signed CEA is only part of the client engagement process that is recommended as good practice. The process should include the following:
- Sufficient information from the potential client to enable preparation of a CEA.
- Client has the opportunity to peruse the CEA
- Client given the opportunity to discuss the CEA and ensure all items on a client engagement checklist are covered.
- Make any necessary amendments to the CEA and repeat steps 2 and 3.
- Once lawyer is satisfied the client understands the CEA, client receives correspondence confirming that fact and a request for the signed CEA be returned.
- If changes to the terms of the CEA are required at any time, repeat the above steps covering the changes.
- Ensure the CEA, a record of the discussions and the completed checklist are placed on file.
A link to the recommended Process including a suggested client engagement checklist is below:
Billing Requirements (under Uniform Law)
The Legal Profession Uniform Law provides that all bills issued by law practices must include or be accompanied by a written statement setting out –
a. the options open to the client in the event of a dispute about the legal costs; and
b. any time limits which may apply to those options.
A link to a Factsheet which contains the options and time limits can be found here.
A link to a Factsheet which contains the options and time limits can be found here.
Where to find Legal assistance
If you require legal advice there are a number of service providers within both the private and public sectors. Depending on your financial situation and the nature of your legal matter, you may be able to seek assistance from either a private lawyer or law firm, a public legal service, or a pro bono assistance scheme.
Private law firms
Finding a lawyer that is right for you can be overwhelming! However, there are many ways to find a lawyer which is right for you.
The Law Society of Western Australia’s Referral Service.
The Law Society of Western Australia’ s Find A Lawyer Referral Service can assist you in finding a lawyer. The Law Society connects members of the public with the local legal profession and provides access to useful legal resources for the community.
Free or Low Cost Services
There are many Western Australian organisations, community legal centres, and legal services that are providing free or low cost services in WA. Each service and organisation has their own eligibility requirements and practice areas.
This eligibility criterion is usually dependent on Federal funding and may change on short notice. Therefore each service should be checked individually.
Pro Bono Schemes
Pro bono services seek to provide assistance to members of the community that cannot afford the private services of a lawyer and who do not qualify for assistance from a public service provider.
- Law Access assists not-for-profits and individuals in genuine need of legal assistance that satisfies a means and merits test. Eligibility criteria and the application form can be found on the website.
- Curtin Tax Clinic (CTC) – assists unrepresented taxpayers in meeting or complying with their taxation affairs. Eligibility and application to the clinic is completed on their website.
How to know a Lawyer is able to practice*
Information regarding a specific practitioner can be found with the Western Australian Legal Practice Board. This can includes information such as a list of practitioners who have faced disciplinary action, the date a lawyer got admitted, and whether an individual is in fact a practising lawyer.
For further information, please see:
- Legal Practice Board Website;
- Legal Practice Board List of lawyers with disciplinary action; and
- Legal Practice Board Status of admitted and practising lawyers.
- Legal Aid Western Australia (Legal Aid) provides a duty lawyer service throughout Western Australia.
If you are unable to find a lawyer to assist you, or if you would like legal advice on the day your matter is heard before the Court, you may be able to see a duty lawyer.
A duty lawyer cannot assist with representation at trial but may be available to assist with legal options, how to progress your matter, or what you can expect to happen in Court.
A duty lawyer may be able to assist with matters such as:
- Criminal and traffic charges in the Magistrates Court or Children’s Court;
- Parenting and children’s issues in the Family Court of WA;
- Protection and care cases in the Children’s Court; and/or
- Family Violence Restraining Order applications.
If you would like to see a duty lawyer about criminal charges, a fee of $20 applies to see a duty lawyer in the Magistrates Court and $5 for concession card holders. It is free to speak to the duty lawyer if you are in custody or prison, or appearing within the Children’s Court.
For up-to-date and further information on the duty lawyer service, please see the Legal Aid website.
Low fee and probono organisations and services:
Organisations and Services in other states and territories:
In preparation for your meeting*
Before you speak with or visit a lawyer, it is a good idea to write down a summary of your matter, including questions and the contact details of all parties involved. You may also need to collate any relevant documents and show them to your lawyer. Being prepared will save your lawyer’s time and help to reduce costs.
When making your appointment, some questions to ask questions include:
- What documentation do I need to bring to the first meeting?
- Is my first appointment free?
- Can I change my lawyer?
During your initial meeting*
Use the first meeting with your lawyer to get as much information as you can from them. There is no guarantee this is the lawyer that is right for you. You want a lawyer whom you feel comfortable with, and whose advice you can take with confidence.
It is advisable to take notes of what is said for your own records.
The law can be complex with lots of unfamiliar words and processes. If you are confused or have any questions, ask your lawyer for an explanation as soon as possible. This will minimise the likelihood of misunderstandings further down the track, and ensure the advice you receive is appropriate.
Questions to ask your lawyer
We suggest for you to attend your first meeting with the lawyer with a prepared list of questions to ask. This will assist the lawyer in ensuring that the legal advice you receive in the appointment addresses your matter.
We suggest asking questions such as:
- What are the costs likely to be? How do I make payments?
- What if I’m unhappy with the costs?
- What documentation do I need to bring to the first meeting?
- How long will my matter take?
- If I’m taking action against someone, what are my prospects of success?
- Can I ask for a progress report?
If you have time in your appointment, we suggest asking additional questions such as:
- Does the lawyer have experience in your kind of problem?
- Can the lawyer begin work immediately?
- What steps are involved in solving the problem?
- What are the chances of success, and would it be better to try to negotiate a settlement?
- Is there anything I can do to cut down the time the lawyer has to spend on the case, and so reduce my costs?
Tell your lawyer if you have any concerns regarding your personal safety.
Before retaining the lawyer
Each Law Practice and lawyer work differently from one another and may have different cost structures. It is important for you as the client, to have discussed costs with your lawyer and how you will be billed. Ensure that you have read the cost agreement carefully before signing it and ask the lawyer questions on anything you are unsure of.
It is important to bear in mind before you retain the lawyer, that:
- You make it clear you want to be kept informed of all developments within your matter;
- If you may be entitled to legal aid, mention this to the lawyer as not all lawyers take legal aid work; and
- With limited exception, when or as soon as practicable after being retained, the lawyer must provide you in writing with information disclosing costs, including:
– The basis on which they will be calculated; and
– An estimate of total costs.
- The name for a costs agreement or costs disclosure can vary depending on the firm. It can be called a retainer, a costs disclosure agreement, or even a client engagement agreement.
After the meeting
To allow your lawyer to serve you efficiently, follow their instructions as quickly as possible. For instance your lawyer may request more information or documentation. Use and ask for a checklist of what you need to provide them and when they require it by.
Keep in contact
Legal issues often take a long time to resolve. Your lawyer should keep you up to date with the progress of your matter. Agree with them on how frequently you will be informed and through what method, such as by telephone or email.
Also inform your lawyer immediately if the circumstances of your matter or personal circumstances change. Even slight changes may mean that your lawyer will have to take a different approach.
Trust your lawyer
To practise law in Western Australia lawyers must have successfully completed a law degree and a practical legal training course, and been admitted to practice. Carefully consider what your lawyer advises you to do. Their advice is based on their years of experience and training. Sometimes the best course of action may not be what you want to hear, but your lawyer, as your advocate, is obliged to have your best legal interests at heart.
Lawyers are required to comply with a number of duties which can be regulated by the law. This includes the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act 2022 (WA)
Duties a Lawyer owes
A lawyer owes a fiduciary relationship to their client as it is a relationship of trust and confidence. A fiduciary relationship creates many legal duties for the person in whom the trust has been placed. Generally this person must act in the best interests of the other. However, a lawyer’s duty to the Court is paramount and prevails to the extent of inconsistency with any other duty.
In relation to their clients, lawyers are required to:
- act in a client’s best interests;
- provide clear and timely advice to assist their clients;
- follow a client’s lawful, proper and competent instructions;
- avoid any conflict of interests;
- maintain client’s confidentiality; and
- disclose all changes regarding costs to the client.
If a private lawyer thinks you are likely to be eligible for legal aid or a legal aid grant, they are required to advise you of this fact.
Your lawyer must disclose in writing how much they will charge and about other expenses before they begin working for you. Find further information on this can be found under ‘how much will it cost’. Once you have agreed to use a particular lawyer, they should send you bills for their services, setting out the work performed and the charges for each service completed.
Conversations, correspondence and documentation between you and your lawyers are confidential and can only be revealed in limited situations. Lawyers must follow strict rules in the maintenance of client files. Lawyers are not permitted to identify your matter professionally or personally in any capacity.
As the client, you should receive regular updates on the progress of your matter, preferably in writing. Your lawyer must provide advice about all your options, including the best course of action. Your lawyer must treat you with respect, be polite and assist in your understanding of the law related to your matter.
Handling your money
Your lawyer may ask you to pay some of their fees in advance to cover any expenses they incur during their work for you. This money must be held in trust account and cannot be paid to anybody for any expenses without your specific permission, which you may provide in your original costs agreement.
Making a complaint
The Legal Profession Complaints Committee has statutory responsibility under the Legal Profession Act 2008 (WA) for supervising the conduct of all legal practitioners in Western Australia.
The Committee ensures ethical conduct and professional behaviour within the legal profession. This includes receiving all complaints and inquiring into all complaints for lawyers and barristers in Western Australia.
The Law Society has also produced this Fact Sheet on unlawfully engaging in legal work.
Complaints against lawyers are generally made in regards to:
- Illegal conduct;
- Professional misconduct; and
- Neglect and/or undue delay.
To submit a complaint with the Committee, submit an enquiry with them at https://www.lpbwa.org.au/Complaints/Complaint-Enquiry-Form
Legal Contribution Trust
The Legal Contribution Trust (LCT) is managed by Trustees appointed by the Governor and administered by the Law Society of Western Australia.
The Solicitors Guarantee Fund (SGF) was established to compensate clients of solicitors who suffer pecuniary (financial) loss through default (misappropriation) in relation to their trust money.
If you believe you have a claim rising from a default on a trust account, please click the link below and follow the steps.
How to Make a Claim
There are specific financial and time limitations in relation to claims. Notify the Legal Contribution Trust in writing as soon as you become aware of your loss or suspect that a solicitor or firm has acted dishonestly in relation to trust money or property.
1. Complete and return a Statutory Declaration to the Law Society.
We recommend that you engage a new solicitor to assist completion of the statutory declaration.
Mailing Address:Legal Contribution
Trustc/- Law Society of Western Australia
PO Box Z5345
Perth WA 6831
Download Statutory Declaration
2. Upon receipt of your statutory declaration, the Legal Contribution Trust may make further enquiries to fully investigate your claim.
3. The Legal Contribution Trust Trustees consider all available information as applied under the enabling legislation – Legal Profession Uniform Law (Western Australia) to decide your claim.
If you are representing yourself within Court proceedings, it is important for you to be informed, across all the procedures and protocols, and have completed all the documentation you may require for Court.
Further information on what is required of you can be found below. Read the relevant information for the Court which your matter will be heard in.
I don’t speak English
If you speak limited English or require any speciality services, you can call a lawyer with an interpreter.
We do not suggest using untrained individuals such as family members or friends as they may interpret incorrectly or there may be a conflict of interest. Your friend or relative may assist you with booking an interpreter.
Need a Lawyer
Lawyers and Community Legal Centres can arrange interpreters for you.
To make an appointment or to talk to your lawyer over the phone, you can call TIS on 131 450. They will then find someone to interpret for you over the phone. If you do not understand or like the interpreter, you may request a new one.
To have an interpreter go with you to an appointment, you can make a booking through WA interpreters on 9365 4819 or 9362 4819.
The Asylum Seeker Hub
The Asylum Seeker Hub is a service provided to individuals who are seeking protection visas. The Hub provides services such as translation and interpreting services in relation to legal, psychological, welfare and social needs. This service runs on Tuesdays only at 2pm to 5pm, Riverview Church, 1 Thorogood Street, Burswood.
Aboriginal Interpreting WA
Aboriginal Interpreting WA (AIWA) (formerly Kimberley interpreting service) provides accredited interpreters by the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) in over 40 WA Aboriginal languages to clients anywhere in Australia. Bookings can be made here.
Need an Interpreter for Court?
To book an interpreter for a Court proceeding, you need to notify the relevant Court prior to the date you are appearing. This is usually around 14 days before you need to appear however it is best to check with the Court the notice period they require. The interpreter is paid for by the Court.
Need an Interpreter for SAT?
To book an interpreter for a State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) hearing, notice should be provided as soon as possible. Further information on what the process is can be found here.
SAT can use consecutive interpreting, simultaneous whispered interpreting, simultaneous AUSLAN interpreting or language assistance (where a party does not require an interpreter at all times, but may at times, have difficulty in fully understanding what is being said or inaccurately conveying their response in spoken English).
The cost for the interpreter is paid for by SAT if the relevant eligibility has been met.
Do you have a hearing or speech impairment?
If you are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairments, you may utilise the National Relay Service for telephone calls or in person during court proceedings. Auslan interpreters may be booked through Access plus WA Deaf, here.