What is a fair price to pay for family law legal services?

_MG_5336What is a fair price to pay for family law legal services?

We are a practice that is very open about how much we charge for our services. Unlike most practices we publish our charge out rates on our website. Most solicitors do not publish their charge rates. Clients only find out how much they will be charged if they ask when making an initial appointment or at that  initial appointment.

The promise of a free initial meeting can be used to get new clients into the solicitors office. They can then find themselves putting a foot on a conveyor belt of charging which they haven’t necessarily contemplated or have researched alternatives.

We will talk about “free interviews” below, but first of all we will talk about hourly charging rates.

How much do senior solicitors charge in Exeter and Taunton?

We carried out some discreet research this summer and found that the “going rate” for senior solicitors in Exeter and Taunton (mostly at partner level, but not all) is currently around £250 + VAT per hour. The highest hourly rate we were quoted was £295 + VAT per hour. There were several in between.

These were all experienced solicitors, but we also found that other senior solicitors who were charging less. Some of these would in our view be equally competent, the difference being that they worked for smaller practices or were based outside of Exeter or Taunton.

For the record, I currently charge £200 plus VAT per hour. I am a solicitor who has been qualified for 24 years. I am a member of various accreditation panels and have also served as a member of the national Law Society Family Law Committee which represents the solicitors profession in consultations on law reform. I am the current chair of the Devon region of the family solicitors organisation Resolution. My team charge less than me.

Why the difference?

Reasons to justifying/ explaining higher charges could be:

  • Particular expertise
  • Large city centre offices and firm infrastructure is expensive and this needs to be funded.
  • Firms may charge the time of family lawyers at a comparable level to those undertaking commercial work.
  • The owners of the practices may have a greater expectation of making profits to smaller firms and will set their lawyers fee targets each year which can more easily be met with higher charge rates.
  • They believe that their clients are willing to pay more for their prestige.

Having worked in larger city centre practices I know full well the pressure within firms to make billing targets.

However there are other factors.

We subscribe to a family law legal library and practice support service which contains around 40 books and periodicals and also gives us access to practice support including case law updates, precedents,webinars,  library research and helpful materials for clients. As a service it is not cheap, but as it is charged on a firm rather than user basis, it is the sort of thing that larger specialist teams will have, but smaller and more general practices will not have. For a lawyer, this type of thing is invaluable, but it is part of the firms overheads, which needs to be paid for, one way or another.

Good lawyers can prefer the comfort and security of working in bigger practices and can demand higher salaries as well. Although it is definitely not the case that all good lawyers work in large city centre practices. Indeed, many smaller niche practices (like us) have been founded by lawyers fed up with the demands of working for larger practices and set up by themselves so that they can offer their services to clients in a more flexible and less expensive way.

Keeping our charges down

We aim to offer city centre excellence, but in a more accessible and less expensive way

We don’t have fancy offices. We are deliberately based at a business centre. Our offices are functional but professional.

We will see clients at other business centres in private rooms. In Honiton, we are adjacent to the A 30 and 10 minutes drive from the Sowton M5 motorway junction on the edge of Exeter. We use rooms in central Exeter, Taunton and Yeovil.

We keep our costs down by trying to have as flat a structure as possible and by avoiding having expensive city centre premises. We don’t have traditional secretaries. We make very good use of IT.

But we spend money where it matters: Out top level legal library and support is essential and well worth the cost.

The difference that charging rates can make to overall cost

With VAT my rate is £240 per hour. For a solicitor charging £250 + VAT this is £300 per hour; for the solicitor charging £295 +VAT this is £354 per hour.

For 10 hours work the difference is £600 or £1140.

For a complex case the differences could amount to £000’s of pounds

What to think about generally when choosing a Solicitor

When clients are deciding who to instruct they need to weigh up the experience and expertise of the lawyer.

Clients should get a full cost estimate for the case as a worst-case scenario. However clients should also be cautious that a full cost estimate might be optimistic. (In our discrete survey we were given phone quotes for a preparing a prenuptial agreement ranging between: £250/£500 (outrageously low!) and £2000+ VAT if simple.  We would consider somewhere between £1000 to £1500 (+VAT) for the process of preparing a reasonably straightforward prenuptial agreement as realistic.

My advice to clients, when comparing quotes and charges is to look at the underlying hourly charging rate. The work to be undertaken should be pretty much the same. If the one underlying charging rate is significantly more than another then the costs will be significantly higher. Clients need to ask themselves what they are getting for this extra charge? However the cheapest quote isn’t always the best.

Clients should also consider the values of the solicitors. Is this list are committed to working in the Resolution way? Seeking to resolve matters amicably? Are they supportive of resolving appropriate cases through Family Mediation or Collaborative Family Law? Alternatively is their style to issue court proceedings in most cases? Issuing cases prematurely can commit clients to unnecessary costs. Sometimes there is no option. The court application brings certainty – as the court process will end in a decision but clients need to be fully aware of the costs before embarking down that route.

Is a free half-hour free?

A free half an hour meeting can seem like a good idea but is it really free and what will you receive?

Solicitors can offer a free half an hour and sometimes longer, but would often be reluctant to give actual advice in such a meeting. The client may have paid less attention to the underlying hourly charging rate and for the sake free half an hour could end up paying more than they might have done if they had researched more widely.

If the solicitor takes notes, they will need to open a file and under new data protection rules they will need your agreement to store data. They could also be liable for any negligent advice.

In a half hour meeting they will probably prefer to take no data from you and give you no advice. They will probably just talk to generally about the law and how they work.

After the half hour is over, the clock is ticking and full rates apply….

We do not offer a free half an hour meeting. This is because we do not feel a half now is long enough to get enough information from the client to be able to give advice and to answer the questions that the client has. We charge a fixed fee instead. We feel this is fair because if instructed we will be offering extremely competitive hourly charging rates instead. We aim to offer value for money.

If you would like to meet us…

Please give us a call on 1404 819098 to arrange a meeting with one of our team of specialist family lawyers. We act for clients from Honiton, East Devon, Exeter, Taunton and Yeovil.