Deciding value for money in government legal services

Governments are not typical legal clients, argues Law Institute of Victoria president Katie Miller — on leave from the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office. The obligation to the public interest colours how value for money is derived in government legal services, whether in-house, private or government solicitor.

Clients purchasing legal services want value for money. But what does that mean when the client is government and the money is the taxpayers’?

Dr Gabrielle Appleby recently argued in The Mandarin that, although value for money is important, it should not be the sole focus of governments. However, perhaps the problem is not the focus on “value for money”, but the lack of focus on what is “value” in the context of government legal services.

“Value for money” has two parts — money and value.  Both clients and lawyers know how to talk about the money side of the equation. How much will this cost is a familiar question and somewhat objective — my hourly rate, although negotiable, is clearly defined.

The second part is often overlooked by both clients and lawyers. Deep down, a lawyer and a client will have their own idea of how valuable particular legal work is.  However, it is not always talked about or even consciously thought about. The value of legal work is harder to define and may depend on the context of the matter and the objectives of the client. Disputes about whether a lawyer has provided value for money are usually not so much about the money and more about the client and lawyer having different ideas about what the value of the legal work is.

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