How Do Lawyers Charge for Civil Litigation in Singapore?

Last updated on April 24, 2019

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How do lawyers charge for civil litigation in Singapore?

This article must be prefaced with the caveat that there is no one way of charging legal fees for civil litigation. Every lawyer is different, every client is different, every case is different. This is why litigators don’t have a menu of services with prices for you to order from, and you will instead have to approach them for a quote on how much they will charge to litigate your matter.

However, it is possible to elaborate on some of the main factors that do have an impact on how lawyers typically charge for civil litigation.

What are Some Factors Which Affect How Much Lawyers Charge for Civil Litigation?

Practice area(s) involved in the matter

First, different practice areas may have different premiums depending on how rare that particular expertise is in the market.

For example, suing someone for defamation, suing a subcontractor in a construction dispute and taking an action against a tech company for stealing your intellectual property rights might all have very different starting points in terms of fees, depending on the current market for each practice area.

Law firm-specific factors

Second, different lawyers and law firms will often charge vastly different rates for the same work due to factors such as:

  • The size or location of the firm
  • The seniority of or demand for a particular lawyer
  • Whether the lawyer or law firm has a reputation for a particular practice area

Every lawyer and law firm will have a floor of fees which they cannot undercut without losing money after paying their overheads, and that floor will be different in every firm.

Complexity of the matter

Third, a lawyer will try to preliminarily assess the complexity of the matter to take an educated guess as to the amount of time and effort she will need to put into it and how many other lawyers she may need to get to help her.

For example, a simple debt recovery case will likely require far fewer man-hours for a law firm than a huge dispute between the developer of a commercial property and his main contractor where there may need to be rooms full of documents to prepare or review.

Quantum of the dispute

Fourth, the quantum of the dispute (i.e. how much you are claiming for) will probably have some effect on legal fees.

If the quantum of the dispute is high, the case will be heard in the High Court instead of the District Court and Magistrate’s Court. The market of High Court litigators is a smaller and more expensive one and having to enter that market will increase your fees significantly.

Separately, a very high quantum is also a general indicator that a lot of work will be required as the client will expect the matter to receive high priority and a lot of attention from the lawyer. Hence, fees will likely be higher.

How Do Lawyers Quote for Civil Litigation?

Some lawyers will give an open-ended hourly rate to take conduct of a matter. Others will give an hourly rate but agree to a fee cap. Others will give an hourly rate but with a rough estimate of the anticipated range of fees to complete a case.

Often, estimates are given in tranches by reference to certain milestones in the case, e.g. exchange of pleadings, discovery, trial, appeal, enforcement. Some may agree to fixed fees for those tranches but this is rare as litigation is, by its nature, unpredictable.

In Singapore, champerty rules prevent lawyers from accepting contingency fee arrangements or win bonuses. In other words, lawyers in Singapore cannot agree to be paid in a percentage of the winnings.

Finally, you should always clarify whether the quote you have been given includes or excludes GST (goods & services tax).

Apart from Professional Fees, What Other Costs Will You Need to Factor in?

Apart from the lawyer’s professional fees, you also need to factor in other costs such as disbursements.

Consider whether you will need expert witnesses who will charge their own fees for the production of reports and/or attendance at trial to give evidence and possibly travel expenses associated with that.

Other major disbursements include those associated with a large-scale discovery where huge quantities of documents may need to be produced and organised.

You must also take into account the court’s filing fees, of which your lawyer will inform you.

Be prepared for orders of costs against you should you lose the case, or cause delay to or lose any ancillary applications along the way. Your lawyer should be able to advise you how much to expect in this regard.

Finally, your adverse party may make certain applications that may result in you incurring costs, such as an application for you to provide security for costs before the matter can proceed. In that case you would need to pay a certain amount of money into escrow to cover your adverse party’s costs in the event you lose.

How Do Lawyers Bill for Civil Litigation?

In terms of how lawyers collect their fees, there is a similar diversity of practices here.

  • Typically, most law firms will need you to pay a deposit of a certain sum into your client account before any work can commence. Sometimes, part of this sum is earmarked for certain disbursements, such as filing fees, with the rest set aside for professional fees.
  • Thereafter, some firms will send you a monthly bill for the amount of work clocked during the preceding month. If any of these bills go unpaid for more than a few weeks, typically work stops.
  • Alternatively, some firms will bill whenever the previous payment has been fully used up by the work done since that payment was made.
  • Other firms will just ask for a few large payments to be made at certain key junctures in the case.

You should discuss billing with your lawyer in advance so you know when to expect bills, and how quickly you are expected to pay them.

Given the vast fee spectrum and diversity of billing practices in the market as well as the wide array of factors that will affect the quotes that various firms will give you, it is advisable to shop around to find a civil litigation lawyer who you are not only comfortable working with, but whose fees are within your budget.