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OPINION: The crucial role of “No Win, No Fee” Lawyers in upholding social justice

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Attwood Marshall Lawyers Legal Practice Director Jeff Garrett delves into the pivotal role that “No Win, No Fee” arrangements play in ensuring equal access for ordinary members of the public to the legal system in Australia. Although no win, no fee lawyers can have a negative stigma about them (usually spread by insurance companies!), they are responsible for levelling the playing field in the courts and empowering individuals to seek redress without having to pay prohibitive legal costs to pursue their case.

No win, no fee costs arrangements offered by lawyers are not a gimmick to attract work by so-called ‘ambulance chasers’; it’s a lifeline for injured people. Without it, many victims of motor vehicle accidents, workers’ compensation, public liability claims, medical malpractice, superannuation TPD claims for illness or injury, and many other claims would be denied the chance to claim the compensation they rightfully deserve.

Over the years, since founding Partner Eric Attwood set up his practice after World War 2 in 1946, our firm has acted for thousands of clients who have been seriously injured and are unable to return to their trade or profession. This causes a massive upheaval in the lives of that person and their family, particularly if the injured person is the breadwinner of the family and there is a dependent spouse and children involved. Most people in this position have no money to pay for their daily living expenses and mortgage payments, let alone pay lawyers’ fees and expert witness fees for reports. They usually cannot afford medical treatment costs, which can affect their rehabilitation and recovery from their injury or illness. Acting for these clients on a no win, no fee arrangement provides them with legal representation to pursue their case and access timely medical treatment from the right specialists which would not otherwise be available to them.

At Attwood Marshall Lawyers, our personal injury team has always acted for injured people on a “No Win, No Fee” basis. In some cases, we also accept the same arrangement on eligible commercial and estate litigation matters. However, these are offered on a case-by-case basis and are usually cases against banks and insurance companies or the executors of an estate.

The entities that injured claimants are up against – banks, insurance companies and government bodies – all have bottomless pockets they can dip into to discredit and obstruct just claims. These entities often bristle at or criticize contingency fee arrangements as they cut into their bottom line and hold them accountable.

Without no win, no fee lawyers, most injured people wouldn’t be able to prosecute their cases. The legal costs of pursuing a claim against an industry giant or the government, being represented by a lawyer, and securing medical and expert reports to support a case are usually very high and often run into hundreds of thousands of dollars in larger, complicated matters.

Legal aid, while valuable, has significant limitations. No win, no fee lawyers can bridge the gap for those suffering extreme hardship and want to pursue their right to legal recourse.

Under the arrangement, payment is contingent on a successful outcome – whether it be a court judgment, settlement, or other agreement that ends the proceedings. A good lawyer will always ensure that their client fully understands the costs agreement they are entering, including any charges outside the arrangement they may need to pay throughout the litigation process.

No win, no fee lawyers do not take on unnecessary or unmeritorious litigation. They fight for a level playing field, ensuring that everyone, not just the privileged few, can access justice and seek fair compensation when they have been wronged.

If the claimant loses their case, the lawyers get nothing and usually must write-off the costs they have poured into the case, including the costs of reports and experts they have paid out of their own pockets.

In clear-cut cases where fault is undeniable, the subsequent award will provide enough money to help in some way mend the shattered pieces of the client’s lives and cover the legal costs and disbursements to the lawyer.

Queensland law also protects clients by applying a “50/50” rule. This means that a lawyer cannot charge a client more than 50 per cent of the damages they can recover in the case. The 50/50 rule only takes force when the legal costs exceed 50 per cent of the settlement amount. Many people mistake this for thinking personal injury lawyers can charge 50 per cent of your settlement – this is not the case – it is only applied when your costs are more than 50 per cent of the settlement, based on whatever the costs agreement is with your lawyer. Many lawyers use hourly rates as a method of charging, meaning you are only charged for the time taken to progress your matter to a settlement or judgement.

Most lawyers are cautious about the cases they take on because they invest a lot of their time and money paying for expensive reports to get the matter resolved. Sometimes, these cases can take several years to determine, depending on how severe the injuries are and how long it takes for the treatment to be completed and the injuries to stabilise. All the while the lawyer must continue to pay their expenses of running their practice, so it is no surprise that these cases can be challenging to carry for all those years. You must select lawyers who specialise in this area and have a reputation for being able to fund these cases to get you the best evidence.

The no win, no fee system makes it possible for claimants in Australia to pursue complex cases against defendant corporations, insurers, manufacturers, and government bodies that they normally wouldn’t be able to afford. Over our long history, our firm has been a passionate advocate for social justice and change. Our intent is to help people and change their lives for the better. No win, no fee arrangements will always be essential to our firm’s vision and purpose.

No win, no fee isn’t just a service, it’s part of the legal system and a cornerstone of a just society.

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Jeff Garrett - Legal Practice Director - Wills & Estates, Estate Litigation, Property & Commercial, Compensation Law, Commercial Litigation, Criminal Law, Racing & Equine Law

Jeff Garrett

Legal Practice Director
Wills & Estates, Estate Litigation, Property & Commercial, Compensation Law, Commercial Litigation, Criminal Law, Racing & Equine Law

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Disclaimer
The contents of this article are considered accurate as at the date of publication. The information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and is of a general nature only. Readers should seek legal advice about their specific circumstances. 

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