AJS South Africa

AJS Hollys Blog Cover


With “Holly” on a mission to take control of her work situation – aiming to instil a feeling of Zen in her workspace – she has come to us seeking answers.

And we are happy to oblige Holly. As always.

Holly has made a promise to herself to get things well and truly up and running in the next coming months – determined to see her law firm soar in 2023.

In an effort to do just that, Holly has once again, started to focus her attention inward. Looking more closely at how her law firm is operating. Better still – how it should be operating.

And there is a lot to take in where the optimal operating of a law firm is concerned.

Take disbursements as an example.

As a single legal practitioner, Holly needs to understand how to treat each principle of her practice so that she can confidently run her own business.  

So, let’s chat about disbursements and put Holly’s mind at ease.

What are disbursements?

Law Insider defines disbursements as follows –

“Disbursements shall include, but not be limited to, costs of travel, telephone, copying, fax transmission, depositions, investigators, messengers, mediation expenses, computer research fees, court fees, expert fees, other consultation fees and paralegal expenses. Any recovery in the Litigation shall first be used to reimburse disbursements.”

And regardless of which country this specific definition is aimed at, South Africa is no different.  

For law firms, “disbursements” are costs that are incurred by the law firm (aka Holly) on behalf of a client for all out-of-pocket expenses. In other words, quite simply put – disbursements are the various costs the client would incur if they were handing their own matter and would need to pay each individual supplier themselves.

These fees often include (but are not limited to) advocate or counsel fees, fees paid by witnesses called on a client’s behalf i.e. expert fees, travel expenses, sheriff’s charges, revenue stamps, courier fees as well as photocopying, emails, and faxes (where still relevant).

If you think about it, disbursements come down to all the little nitty gritty fees that are not related to the actual drafting of documents or consultations but make drafting the documents and the consultations (whether in person or by telephone) possible – so long as they are reasonable.

Disbursements are ordinarily determined according to a tariff that is set out in Table A and Table B of the Rules Board for the Courts of Law Act 107 of 1985 (as amended).

How are disbursements treated?

Disbursements are fees that – in the ordinary course of business (especially where charged according to the tariffs) – are payable regardless of the result of the matter.

As such, Holly will need to include these fees in her monthly invoice to her clients.

Holly will draw up her regular invoice on a regular monthly basis and will include the details of fees which were earned by Holly during that particular month as well as all disbursements expensed during that particular month.

A disbursement will therefore be reflected on the invoice in the same way as any other normal line item in an invoice (if you need a refresher on all things invoices, please check out this Holly Blog).

But Holly will need to ensure that she follows up on her clients with regards to the disbursement fees – remember these are fees that Holly will incur on behalf of her client. They are therefore costs which are paid from her own pocket. If these fees are not recuperated, Holly’s practice will be running at a loss.

In Holly’s previous blog on invoices we stated that in order for Holly’s practice to run smoothly – and without any uncomfortable cash flow situations – Holly will need to invoice for the work that has been done (for the fees that have been earned). And this is true for disbursements too.

Because Holly incurs these “costs” on behalf of a client (in pursuance of their matter) she needs to recover those fees to ensure that her business stays afloat.

It’s at this point that Holly is also reminded of the fact that she is able to automate her invoices with AJS’ full-stack legal accounting and practice management software. There are so many easy options that can assist Holly with automating her invoices – taking the complexity out of the situation altogether.

And that’s disbursements for you. Simple as that.

With that, Holly can tick off one more thing on her “to-do list” in optimising her practice.

There are many attorneys who have the software packages in place but are just not sure how to fully use them, what everything does and how they can optimise their practice to ensure that it is performing with accuracy and reliability.

But, with the help of AJS, your practice (regardless of its size) can (and will) succeed.

We will continue going through tips, answering your FAQ’s, and providing you with information that will better equip the everyday user of legal tech, like you and like Holly, to achieve a state of Work Zen.

It’s all easy. If you know how… Just ask us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.