New Zealand Law Society - Seeing a lawyer

Seeing a lawyer

Lawyers deal with many personal, family, business and property matters. While not every legal matter requires a lawyer, in many situations legal advice is essential. A lawyer has the training, experience and knowledge to help you on matters relating to law. Seeing a lawyer before a problem gets too big can save you anxiety, time and money.

Lawyers must have a practising certificate issued by the Law Society. You can check a lawyer’s status by going to the Law Society register. Otherwise, you can call the Law Society on 0800 261 801 or 04 472 7837 or email

  • Any lawyer who provides regulated services must, in the course of their practice, comply with the following fundamental obligaitons: to uphold the rule of law and to facilitate the administration of justice in New Zealand
  • to be independent in providing regulated services to his or her clients
  • to act in accordance with all fiduciary duties and duties of care owed by lawyers to their clients
  • to protect, subject to his or her overriding duties as an officer of the High Court and to his or her duties under any enactment, the interest of his or her clients.

What can I expect from my lawyer?

If you instruct a lawyer they must provide you information about:

  • the basis on which fees will be charged, including when and how they’re to be billed and paid
  • information about the lawyer’s professional indemnity insurance (if any), the Lawyers’ Fidelity Fund and the process for dealing with any complaints from clients
  • the name and position within the firm of the person responsible for your work
  • any limits on the extent of the lawyers obligations or liability.

The lawyer must also provide you with a copy of the client care and service information required under the Rules of Conduct and Client Care for Lawyers (For more information go to the Law Society website your lawyer must:

  • act competently, in a timely way, and in accordance with instructions received and arrangements made
  • protect and promote your interests and act for you free from compromising influences or loyalties
  • discuss with you your objectives and how they should best be achieved
  • provide you with information about the work to be done, who will do it and the way the services will be provided
  • charge you a fee that is fair and reasonable and let you know how and when you will be billed
  • give you clear information and advice
  • protect your privacy and ensure appropriate confidentiality
  • treat you fairly, respectfully, and without discrimination
  • keep you informed about the work being done and advise you when it is completed
  • let you know how to make a complaint and deal with any complaint promptly and fairly.

You can change your lawyer at any time. You will have to pay for work done up to that point. A lawyer has a duty to complete any agreed work for you unless you agree otherwise, or there is good cause not to and the lawyer has given you reasonable notice.

Lawyers acting for other people must also treat you with integrity, respect and courtesy.

If you are seeing a lawyer you may have to provide documents confirming your name, birthdate and address as a result of the obligations imposed by the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009 (often referred to as AML/CFT law or ‘AML’). You may also be asked to provide information in relation to your finances. This is called “customer due diligence” (‘CDD’). if you cannot provide the information the lawyer may not be able to complete your transaction.

How to get best value from your lawyer

Get advice promptly: It may save you anxiety and money in the long term.

See a lawyer before you sign any important documents: If you don’t you could find out – to your cost – that the words don’t mean what you thought they did.

Don’t leave things until the last minute: If a lawyer has to drop other work at short notice, it may mean you pay more. It is best to give your lawyer as much notice as possible.

Give your lawyer all the documents: Always supply any relevant legal documents, letters, accounts, receipts and other papers to your lawyer. Put the documents in logical order.

Be well prepared: Among other things, your lawyer’s charges will reflect the amount of time spent looking after your affairs. If you take up your lawyer’s time unnecessarily, you are wasting your money. Before you visit your lawyer, sort out everything you want to discuss.

Keep contact to the essential: While you should keep your lawyer fully informed, remember you are being charged on a time-basis. This includes time spent on the phone and emailing.

How much will it cost?

Your lawyer must inform you up front of the basis for charging and the process for payment.

The fee will take into account the time taken and the lawyer’s skill, specialised knowledge and experience.

It may also depend on the importance and complexity of the matter, the nature of the work, how urgent it is, results achieved and the costs of running a practice, and any quote or estimate given or fee agreement made at the outset.

Various arrangements to pay might include:

  • paying by instalments as the work is being done
  • paying when the work is finished
  • paying a fee in advance, which must be held in trust and can be deducted only with your authority
  • a conditional fee (based on success).

Whatever the arrangement, the fee must be fair and reasonable to both you and your lawyer, and as mentioned above, you must be given information in advance about the basis of charging and when the payment is to be made..

As well as the fee, the lawyer may have to pay other charges called disbursements on your behalf and these will be passed on to you. Disbursements can include such things as court fees, registration charges and toll calls. Your lawyer can tell you what these are likely to be.

With your permission, your lawyer can sometimes instruct another lawyer to act on your behalf. You may be billed for the other lawyer’s fees in that case.

Your lawyer must tell you if you might be entitled to legal aid.

Money handling?

If you have any doubts as to how your lawyer is handling money on your behalf, phone the Law Society’s Lawyers Complaints Service on 0800 261 801.

Not happy with your lawyer?

If you are not happy with the way your lawyer is doing the work for you or you feel the cost is too high, or you are unhappy about a lawyer’s conduct, you should first raise your concern with the lawyer or law firm and use their complaints procedures to try and sort it out.

If this is not appropriate or you are still unhappy after any internal complaints procedure, you can take the matter to the Law Society’s Lawyers Complaints Service. You can also contact the Law Society by phone at 0800 261 801.


Where can I find a lawyer with relevant expertise?

Visit Get legal help and choose an option that is most suited to the area of law you seek advice from.

Are there standard fees for any particular advice or services that may be provided?

Lawyers’ costs vary from lawyer to lawyer and other than a certain amount of legal aid work, there is no standard fee for any particular service that may be provided. You may wish to seek an estimate from more than one lawyer if you want to get a broader idea of the fees you may be charged.

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