In Law, what is a Cost Bill?

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  • Written By: Jodee Redmond
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 March 2020
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A cost bill refers to the practice in civil litigation where the losing party may be required to pay for the legal fees and other expenses of the winner. The idea is to reimburse the winner for reasonable costs incurred in participating in the legal action. The legal cost bill is an itemized list of expenses, and it may be submitted to the court and approved before forming part of the judgment. Another situation in which a cost bill may be used is when a dispute about fees occurs between a lawyer and his or her client.

Starting or defending a legal action can be a very expensive process, especially when the case involves ordering reports and having expert witnesses testify during the proceedings. If the parties cannot agree on an amount to be paid for costs, the prevailing party's legal costs can be assessed by the Court to ensure they are fair. The Court will not approve a cost bill that is set at a higher rate than what the prevailing party would reasonably have expected to spend to win the lawsuit.


The amount of time spent on the file will be considered when the cost bill is assessed. The Court may reduce the amount of legal fees on the account if it determines that a reasonably competent attorney would have been able to accomplish the work in less time than what is listed on the bill. The winning party will be asked to break down the different facets of the case in detail for the assessment.

The time spent reviewing documents, writing and responding to correspondence, and meeting with the client would be included on the cost bill. Other items that would appear on it would be time spent contacting expert witnesses, ordering reports and reviewing these reports. Trial preparation, as well as the time spent in front of a judge, are also legitimate expenses that would be listed on the cost bill.

If a client receives a bill from an attorney and feels that the amount being charged is excessive, he or she can request that it be reviewed by the court. The cost bill is submitted to a judge and the client is given the chance to explain why the amount owing should be reduced. The lawyer would attend the proceedings and make his or her own submission about why the bill should be allowed to stand as it is. If the bill is found to be excessive, the judge can order that the amount owing be lowered.


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