Why is legal representation so expensive?

why are legal fees so expensive

Why is legal representation so expensive?

The better question to ask is this: Is it really?

A guy asks a lawyer about his fees.

“I charge x-amount for three questions,” the lawyer says.

“That’s awfully steep, isn’t it?” the guy says.

“Yes, I suppose so,” the lawyer replies. “Now, what’s your final question?” 

If you have been around the sun a few times, there is a good chance that you have heard at least a few lawyer jokes.

For many prospective attorneys, lawyer jokes are something they are subjected to from the minute they reveal their plans to study in this field. When it comes to the law, there are plenty of opportunities for a bit of deadpan humour, and a lot of these centre around legal costs.

It can be rather amusing at times, and the ignorant may even believe it to be “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

Despite the fact that even your legal eagle acquaintances may find this comical, even lawyers who enjoy making fun of themselves and their profession have their limitations.

Let us start at the very beginning: The truth of the matter

Primarily, the attorney is not the one who initiated the situation you need legal assistance with – whatever the predicament.

When it comes down to it, your lawyer is the person who is trying to fix the predicament for you, and the chances are that you lack the legal knowledge or expertise to do so yourself, else you would not have sought legal assistance.

Lawyers have devoted a good deal of time and resources to education. They are analytical people, problem solvers, and they do the latter on a permanent basis.

When you think about it, most people have no idea what it takes to be an attorney.

There is a finite number of people who are capable of conducting high-quality legal work on a continuous basis, year after year.

Most legal work entails considerable slog and is not glamorous by a long shot. In fact, the majority of legal labour is extremely tedious.

In a nutshell

  • It is a bespoke service
  • Becoming a lawyer is not simple or cheap
  • It is a commitment that lasts a lifetime
  • There is a huge amount of stress and time involved.

The fundamentals of legal representation's fee structure

  • A client is responsible for paying legal fees, which include the fees of attorneys, advocates, and experts. At the outset, your lawyer will give you a general idea of the cost of his/her work.
  • There will be an hourly fee (or part of an hourly fee) for non-litigious cases, which will be revealed to you prior to the beginning of the attorney’s work.
  • Fees for civil litigation, whether in the Magistrate’s Court, the High Court, or the Supreme Court of Appeal, are established in an official tariff and are not subject to negotiation. On November 1, 2017, the most recent revisions went into effect. The attorney may charge a greater fee if the client accepts and is fully informed from the start through a fee mandate or letter of engagement.
  • Expenses of conveyance: the costs of conveyance are specified in an official tariff on a predetermined scale. 
  • You may be charged an additional fee, or a percentage of the funds recovered from the person that you sued, if you have agreed to a “contingency fee” arrangement with your attorney, in accordance with the Contingency Fees Act, under which the attorney will not bill you until you win your case. 
  • For criminal cases, a lawyer can charge you an hourly, daily, or all-inclusive fee to conduct the case. 

What other factors contribute to the cost of legal representation?

When researching for this article, this journalist used a variety of credible platforms, including the website Lawyer.co.za, in order to shed some light on the aforementioned subject. It has a section devoted to the multiple elements that contribute to the cost of legal representation.

Costs can be divided into two categories:

Party-and-party costs

Typically, successful litigants are given only part-and-party costs, which include the attorney’s fees for taking directions to litigate, drawing out the summons, the reply to the defendant’s plea, requests for additional particulars, preparation for trial, and attendance in court. 

Attorney-and-client costs

Regardless of the outcome of the case, an attorney is allowed to recover from his or her client additional costs over and above those incurred by the parties involved in the litigation. Costs incurred prior to the initiation of proceedings are included. It is therefore not included in party-and-party costs to pay for pre-trial counsel’s opinion.

Keep in mind, however, that the official scale of fees will only apply if you and your lawyer have not reached an agreement on whether or not greater fees would be imposed.

Remember, each civil lawsuit has its own unique set of expenses and numerous variables that can influence overheads. Examples include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • External correspondent fees, postponements, and sheriff’s fees all contribute to the rising cost of litigation.
  • In addition, the severity, duration, and complexity of the case should be taken into account. Another consideration would be the court where your case is being litigated, the number of pleadings exchanged, and the claimed amount. 


All rules and laws are meaningless without lawyers. It is one thing to know the fundamentals of the law; it is quite another to be able to apply that knowledge to one’s benefit and defend oneself. For this reason alone, we require the services of attorneys.

You can count on your lawyer to keep you safe from harm and to stand up for your rights if you ever find yourself in a tough situation.

In the end, no fee is too great to pay for the peace of mind that comes with hiring a attorney.

Why are legal representation so expensive?

The better question to ask is this: Is it really? 

Written by Heinrich Gonzales, Director of HFG Attorneys Inc.


The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

HFG Attorneys in Paarl, Western Cape, specialises in four main areas, including family law, general litigation, criminal defence and firearm law.


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