The legal field has undergone a significant shake-up in South Africa. After many years of deliberation and cooperation between the various interested parties which include Government, the attorneys’ professional bodies, the advocates’ representatives counsels, law clinics, various universities, academics and the like, the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014 (LPA) has been promulgated.
The purpose of the Act is to bring in line the practice of law with an outdated legislative framework which has not been updated in almost 40 years.
Recognition is given to the way in which the practice of law has changed over time. Many of the changes are fairly technical and revolve around control of the professional bodies both those of attorneys and advocates. Some of the control has been rested away from the provincial counsels and centralized while in another aspect less formal bodies are being created to manage the legal fraternity but also the relationship between the legal fraternity and the public at large.
One of the changes proposed is the manner and type of information which an attorney must provide to his or her client when first meeting, taking the instruction and signing the fee agreement.
This proposal which has not yet been affected as there is still some investigation which the law counsels must undertake states the following:
1. The attorney is to provide to the client the following information in writing when first receiving instructions:
1.1. Likely financial implications including the fees, charges, disbursements and costs;
1.2. What the hourly rate is and an option that the client can negotiate these fees;
1.3. The scope of work to be done at each stage;
1.4. The likelihood of engaging an advocate as well as an explanation of the different fees that can be charged by an advocate;
1.5. Financial consequences of litigation and withdrawal from litigation, particularly as it relates to the recovery of costs; and
1.6. A written cost estimate notice which has been fully explained to the client.
This is to ensure that when the client engages an attorney for the first time in a matter, he or she is fully aware of the consequences of such an engagement, particularly where litigation is concerned.
This is considered a positive move as it would limit disputes between attorneys and their clients when matter are resolved and the fee is charged to the client.
As indicated, this has not yet been implemented, however good practice dictates that attorneys should immediately start considering the content of this document and whether it can be presented digitally to a client for signature.