Lawyer fee slashed not considered overcharging but doctor fee slashed is

I refer to the 16 Oct 2014 Straits Times letter “Don’t equate reduction of costs with overcharging” by the Singapore Law Society.

The Singapore Law Society added ink to the recent saga of overcharging by SMC lawyers without necessarily shedding light to the issue.

While the Law Society deems it the winning lawyer’s duty to charge as much as possible, it also says that it doesn’t condone overcharging. Putting the two statements together, the Law Society’s position must be that the winning lawyer has a duty to charge as much as possible without overcharging.

But what constitutes overcharging? That is the crux of the issue. Did SMC lawyers overcharge? Ironically, throughout its letter, the Law Society makes no mention whatsoever of that most crucial point – what constitutes overcharging. In other words, it’s still possible that while SMC lawyers conformed to the Law Society’s creed of charging as much as possible, it still erred in having overcharged Dr Susan Lim.

SMC lawyers charged $1.33 million at first. Going by the Law Society’s logic, $1.33 million must have been as much as SMC lawyers should dutifully charge. But whether $1.33 million also amounts to overcharging is not clear from the Law Society’s explanation.

The $1.33 million was 400% of the $317,000 SMC lawyer fees were eventually slashed to. Is the Law Society of the opinion that charging 400% of what the judge allowed constitutes overcharging or does not constitute overcharging? One shudders to think that the Law Society might consider 400% as not overcharging. In that case how high must lawyer fees go before the Law Society would deem them as overcharging? 4,000%? 4 million%? Where is the boundary to the Law Society’s greed?

If the Law Society doesn’t equate the slashing of SMC lawyer fees as being a case of overcharging, surely the Law Society will also agree that the slashing of Dr Susan Lim’s fees also did not constitute overcharging? Or is the Law Society going to use one set of rules for lawyers and another set of rules for everyone else?

So in the end, having said so much, the Law Society still did not explain why even though both had their fees slashed down, Dr Susan Lim was punished while SMC lawyers got away scot free.

Straits Times, Don’t equate reduction of costs with overcharging, 16 Oct 2014

MUCH ink has been spilt following recent claims of overcharging by lawyers representing the Singapore Medical Council (“Medical, legal professions need to clear the air” by Dr Jeremy Lim Fung Yen, Oct 3; and “Legal profession’s unregulated pricing structure” by Mr Philip Williams, last Saturday).

Without commenting on specific cases before the court and the inquiry committee, it appears necessary to explain the process to the public.

There are two typical situations – when one reviews one’s lawyer’s bill, and when one reviews the opponent’s lawyer’s bill.

In Singapore, the general rule is that the losing party has to pay costs to the winning party. Parties can agree on the quantum to be paid, or if they disagree, the court will decide the amount payable after hearing arguments from both sets of lawyers. This is known as taxation.

The winning party’s lawyers submit an itemised bill of costs for taxation, which sets out the work done, time spent, lawyers involved and quantum claimed. This bill of costs is subject to the court’s detailed scrutiny, and the losing party is entitled to challenge both the overall quantum claimed as well as specific items.

The winning party is entitled to a reasonable amount of all costs reasonably incurred. Any doubts about reasonableness are resolved in favour of the losing party. The quantum determined by the court is an amount that the losing party ought reasonably to pay, and not what a lawyer may reasonably charge the client.

The law actually intends that there will be an appreciable margin between what a losing party pays in taxed costs, and what a winning party has to pay its lawyers. It is an attempt to reach a fair balance between the victor and the vanquished.

In practice, most bills of costs submitted for taxation are reduced. The winning party’s lawyers have a duty to seek the highest quantum reasonably arguable, and the losing party’s lawyers have a duty to seek the highest possible reduction of those claimed costs.

The court will balance both views and decide. That a winning party’s bill of costs was reduced on taxation should not automatically be construed as overcharging. Indeed, if a client is dissatisfied with his lawyer’s bill, he can also tax that bill in court.

The Law Society does not condone overcharging by lawyers, and complaints about overcharging are subject to a statutory regime. Complaints made to the Law Society are referred to independent committees for investigation. These committees are not appointed by the Law Society, and it has no control over them.

The public can have every confidence that there are long-established safeguards in place to address overcharging, whether by one’s own lawyer or by an opposing lawyer.

Shawn Toh

Director, Communications

The Law Society of Singapore


One Response to “Lawyer fee slashed not considered overcharging but doctor fee slashed is”

  1. Thomas Says:

    Now we know…lawyers owe a duty of care to charge as much as possible when they are on the winning side… its a right enshrined in law …

    Just imagine how much fun 2 opposing lawyers on the same case can have if they get together for a client paid supper …

    The Sim Lim Square Association of Over-chargers and Scammers is finally vindicated. Why should be privilege extends only to members of the bar? In fact, why limit this only to lawyers? Its patently unfair … And why are doctors not accorded this privilege?

    The public at large is watching this spot on the navel very closely..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: