| || || Raj, Sherlin Krishna|
| || || Billing ethics : a study of the use of time-based billing by private legal practitioners in Fiji|
Author:Raj, Sherlin Krishna
Institution: University of the South Pacific.
Call No.: Pac KVN 5 .485 .R35 2012
Copyright:10-20% of this thesis may be copied without the authors written permission
Abstract: In the United States (US) and Australia, the practice of time-based billing by lawyers has been subject to great scrutiny by legal scholars as well as members of the Bar. Critics in these jurisdictions argue that time-based billing is open to abuse and that it creates and promotes a culture of unethical and illegal behaviour on the part of legal practitioners. Studies have also been undertaken in both these jurisdictions to demonstrate how lawyers are abusing this system of billing. In Fiji no such research has been undertaken and there is little if any literature available regarding lawyers’ billing practices. The aim of this study therefore was to determine whether time-based billing is prevalent amongst Fiji legal practitioners and if so, whether this billing system is also subject to similar abuses to those observed in the US and Australia. Data for the purpose of this study was gathered through semi-structured and confidential interviews with twenty Fiji legal practitioners. The Principal Legal Officer of the Legal Practitioners Unit was also interviewed to obtain data on billing complaints against legal practitioners. Reported cases where the courts have assessed or taxed costs were also examined to obtain information about billing abuses dealt with by the judiciary. The billing provisions under the Legal Practitioners Decree 2009 (Fiji) were also examined and compared with the billing provisions under the American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct 2002 (as revised in 2009) and the Legal Profession Model Laws Project Model Provisions (Model Laws) 2006 (Australia). Given that the ABA Model Rules and the Australian Model Laws have seen extensive revisions to regulate the ethical conduct of practitioners, such analysis was thus undertaken to seek legislative guidance for Fiji. ii The researcher found that time-based billing is the most widely used method of billing for the interviewee firms. The data also suggested that the use of time-based billing either resulted in unethical billing practices, or had the potential to encourage such behaviour. The decided cases on costs assessment and taxation also confirmed that unethical practices by lawyers are occurring where time-based billing is used. The researcher concludes that current regulatory provisions are inadequate to regulate the practice of time-based billing. Preliminary recommendations are thus made for improving the ethical aspects of lawyers’ billing practices in Fiji. The original data collected in this study will contribute significantly to an understanding of law firm billing in Fiji and provide a firm basis for future research. The data and the preliminary recommendations will also be of practical significance to legal practitioners, regulatory bodies and consumers of legal services in Fiji.