Can you piggy-back the taxation of an old interim bill onto a taxation of a fresh final bill?

Update, 22 February 2012: Another judge of the Queensland District Court has preferred the NSW position over the Victorian position: Golder Associates P/L v Challen [2012] QDC 11 (Samios DCJ).

Update, 14 August 2011: The decision is at odds with decisions of judges of NSW’s and Queensland’s District Courts: Retemu Pty Ltd v Ryan (NSW District Court, Coorey DCJ, 4300/08 and 4301/08, 16/4/10, unreported), which Costs Judge Wood did not follow in the decision which is the subject of the post below (Dromana Estate), and Turner v Mitchells Solicitors [2011] QDC 61 (McGill DCJ), which prefers the reasoning in Retemu to that in Dromana Estate.

Original post: Under the Legal Profession Act, 2004, clients have a year to apply for taxation of their solicitor’s bill.  Before, it was 60 days, but it was easy to get an extension: s. 3.4.38(5).  Now, it’s longer, but it’s harder to get an extension: you have to make an application to a judge in the Practice Court, and the test is stricter.  Section 3.4.37, though, says:

‘(1) A law practice may give a person an interim bill covering part only of the legal services the law practice was retained to provide.

(2) Legal costs that are the subject of an interim bill may be reviewed under Division 7, either at the time of the interim bill or at the time of the final bill, whether or not the interim bill has previously been reviewed or paid.’

In Dromana Estate v Wilmoth Field & Warne [2010] VSC 308, the artist formerly known as the Taxing Master, the Supreme Court’s Costs Court’s Costs Judge Wood, ruled in favour of submissions made by Daryl Williams and supported by Richard Antill of counsel.  They submitted that a client may never, without special permission, have a taxation of a bill more than a year old, even an interim bill sought to be taxed at the same time as a final bill younger than a year.  So there you go: once a year has gone by after the rendering of an interim bill, the solicitor only has to fear an application for leave to tax bills out of time.  Unless of course he or she has failed to comply with any aspect of the disclosure requirements (such as the obligation to give disclosures before or as soon as practicable after retainer, the obligation to update disclosures already given if circumstances change, and the obligation to give pre-settlement disclosure of what the client will get in his or her pocket after costs), in which case the solicitor is not entitled to recover fees, and the client need not pay fees, until the bills have been taxed, presumptively at the solicitor’s costs: s. 3.4.17.  The sombre solution for the solicitor, in that case, is to apply for taxation of his or her own costs under s. 3.4.40.  There is no time limit under the Legal Profession Act, 2004 for doing so.

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