We stray from marriage laws for now and for the next two weeks discuss your questions about legal charges. Legal fees can be costly. No I lie. Legal fees are costly and lawyers are expensive. That is why it is antisocial and considered poor breeding to not laugh at lawyers’ jokes even if you don’t understand the joke. However the cost of ignorance and not getting proper legal advice at the right time is much more costly than any lawyer’s bill. It is not uncommon to lose hundreds of thousands of worth of property or money simply for failing or refusing to part with a few hundred dollars to get proper legal assistance. So lawyers’ fees are really not that expensive and lawyers’ jokes are really not that funny. We will examine the legal issues around legal fees, legal aid and legal aid societies.
Lawyers charge for their expertise measured in terms of the amount of time they spend in expending that expertise. Legal charges are stipulated and controlled by the Law Society of Zimbabwe which publishes a tariff for allowable charges and fees. You can ask your lawyer what they are allowed to charge. There are prescribed fees and charges for certain routine attendances that do not typically require complicated and protracted litigation such as drafting lease agreements, will writing, conveyancing and others.
How are the charges set?
Lawyers charge according to their experience and expertise. Rates range from $50.00 per hour for very junior lawyers to anything above $350.00 per hour for experienced seniors. Lawyers are not allowed to undercharge or undercut each other although in these cut throat times it does happen. Lawyers should charge fairly for their work and unless doing certain discretionary or permissible pro bono work (free work) they are generally not allowed to work for free. In as much as overcharging damages the profession so too does undercharging and not charging as they undermine the profession. The complexity, simplicity or amount of work and expertise required also determine charges. Obviously simple court applications will be charged differently from complex and protracted legal wrangles. Value too is a factor as it is imprudent to spend $800.00 chasing a $100.00 debt no matter how staunch the principle may be.
When to see a lawyer.
As patronizing as it sounds you should see a lawyer only when you have a legal problem just as you see a doctor when you have a medical problem. Your lawyer is not a psychotherapist or a social worker. However life’s issues are so convoluted and tied up with each other that it is not always easy to separate them. Your lawyer however is little equipped and qualified to provide emotional stress counselling services even though they may listen and try to help. Sometimes you may think your issue is a legal one when it really is an emotional or psychological one. You will invariably be charged almost every time you interact with your lawyer in pursuit of your matter. You can spend two hours narrating every sorry and sordid detail of your emotional anguish but all your lawyer can do is address the legal issue if there is one. It will boil down to what legal intervention is required. There is nothing wrong with phoning your lawyer to discuss your matter but you will be charged so it is best to keep your interactions to the necessary minimum. All too often clients are horrified when they see the bill and protest ‘’ but we were just talking and he is the one who called me!’’. Your lawyer is not typically out to cheat you but he or she is entitled to bill you for the time spent talking to you about your matter and working on it. If you get into the habit of popping into the office whenever you are in the neighbourhood or calling unnecessarily just to chat sometimes in the middle of the night be prepared to pay the rather long and eye popping bill when it comes.
Miriam Tose Majome is a lawyer and a teacher. She writes in her personal capacity and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org