Ian Walker - Our Fair Charging Policy

Our Fair Charging Policy

We are committed to transparency about how we charge.

We have always published our standard hourly charging rates on our website where it is easily accessible.

Price and charges for legal services are an important factor to potential clients, when deciding who to instruct. We believe that pricing transparency is essential so that clients can make informed choices.

We are always happy to discuss charges. For clients who are not legally aided and for whom we are not working for through a fixed fee arrangement, we will normally send a bill each month together with an itemised time-sheet. This ensures that clients see what we have done and assist them to keep on top of their own budgets.

Its shouldn’t just be about price

Price is an important factor when deciding which solicitor to instruct. We will explain below how legal charging works.

However, there are other factors which clients should consider:

Experience at dealing with similar types of case.

Experience generally – which assists in being able to deal with the unexpected.

General ethos and approach – including being able to offer the full range of all family dispute resolution options – so that a client can choose the path which will assist them to get the best outcome in the best way. (Surprisingly – some solicitors still struggle to refer cases to mediation or to support clients through mediation, and many family solicitors have not trained in collaborative family law, and many more solicitors struggle with the idea of using family arbitration). How cases were routinely resolved 20+ years ago, is not necessarily the best way to resolve cases now!

Whatever difficulties there are between family members – bad decisions can always assist these to get worse. Children (including adult children) are often drawn into parental disputes. Any family your professional should be mindful to assist the client to achieve a sensible and fair outcome (which is what the law requires) but they should always have in mind and keep in their clients mind the long-term importance of causing as little damage to relationships as is possible. Good advice does not simply focus on the narrow issue at hand.

Hopefully as a practice we get these things right. But it is important that we get pricing and charging right as well.

Legal Charging

The normal and well-established method of charging for legal services is by hourly rate.

With charging by hourly rate clients only pay for what is done. However, this way of charging can place more emphasis on actions rather than the expertise utilised. The way in which time is recorded doesn’t so easily capture time spent thinking about cases and applying expertise. The time-sheet may not reflect the real value a client receives. This way of charging is not perfect, but it is clear and straightforward.

The downside of charging by hourly rates is that they can unfairly reward those who take an unnecessarily nit-picking and obstructive approach – charges a higher because they do more work.

Charging by hourly rates also discourages lawyers to delegate tasks on a file – which can cause delays and therefore undermine the service provided to the client.

Generally, it is the client who takes the risk when the case takes longer than expected. They will be expected to pick up the extra costs.

Pricing based upon hourly rates

At the outset of the instructions the lawyer will give the client a cost estimate which will be updated as the case progresses. This is essentially the best indication that the lawyer can give of the ultimate price that the client will pay.

Because this is an estimate – the price is not fixed and may well arise.

Broad cost estimates are often asked for and given at the first meeting – when it is too early to predict what is going to happen with the case. These estimates are therefore necessarily broad, and it is difficult for the client to compare one cost estimate with another. If a very broad estimate is given – because that is all that is realistic to give – the lawyer giving the realistic estimate could be penalised in comparison to another lawyer who gives an unrealistically low estimate and therefore secures the instruction.

Looking at the underlying hourly rate of the lawyer to be instructed is helpful – but as explained above this doesn’t necessarily help us as to whether a cost estimate is likely to be accurate or not.

Alternatives to hourly rate charging

With family law work it is not permissible to undertake work on a no-win/no fee basis. This is because family law work is to a large degree about problem solving and if possible, through negotiation. The courts will make decisions based on laws which require fairness about money issues or based upon what is in the best interests of any relevant children. A no-win/no fee way of working is impossible – and if it was it would be disastrous for families.

The alternative to hourly rate charging is therefore fixed fees.

Under a fixed fee – the solicitor will set out clearly the work which we undertaken an offer a price for the steps which are going to be undertaken. This will then be the fee for the job.

The advantage of a fixed fee for a client is that it provides certainty about price.

The solicitor is encouraged to be efficient and to progress the case because they will be penalised for inefficiency and delay because they will essentially end up doing work that no payment.

Fixed fee pricing

Getting a fixed fee right is a skill. Timing is important. Until it is clear precisely what work is going to be undertaken it is difficult to work out what a reasonable fixed fee will be. It is rarely possible to propose a fixed fee at the initial meeting. This is because we would need to be clear which route to resolution is going to be taken (court proceedings, support of mediation, collaborative law, et cetera). We also need to know a bit more about the dynamics between clients and who is representing the other party and how easy they are going to be to do business with.

Good fixed fee pricing requires getting to understand the client and the case and then working out the steps that are going to be undertaken within the scope of the fixed fee.

Once we have enough information, we are happy to offer fixed fee pricing to our clients.

Any fixed fee proposal will set out clearly what we will do under the fixed fee. The proposal what we will not do. This is so everyone is clear. If we are inefficient in doing what we say we will do within the fixed fee, then we will bear the cost.

The fixed fee provides an incentive to any lawyer to complete the case quickly and efficiently.

If the truly unexpected happens then this is likely to fall outside of the scope of the fixed fee and additional charges would apply – but once enough is known about the case to offer a fixed fee – then the risk of it not including all realistic work to be done is much less.

If a fixed fee were offered for the job at the initial meeting – this would potentially be wildly inaccurate – which either cause the problem for the lawyer or ends up with the client paying more than would have been reasonable.

A further note on hourly rates

Hourly rates can vary significantly. For example, the going rate for experienced partner level solicitors in Exeter and Taunton is generally between £250 -£350 per hour (not including VAT). Rates are less for smaller practices.

We undertook our own mystery shopping in 2017 and are likely to do so again at some point in the next 12 months. We are confident that our hourly charging rates are competitive against the firms to whom we would wish to be compared.

There are firms who will charge less than us. There are others who charge more. Where we sit within the local marketplace is that we have one of the larger and most experienced teams of family lawyers in Devon and Somerset. We strive to be the best which means investing in practice support and training which inevitably increases our overheads. We believe that our charges are fair for the type of specialist practice we are – with the high level of experience that we have within our team.

We are also committed to providing outstanding service which is backed by our service level guarantee which is more than empty words.

Our fair charging policy

In a nutshell and fair charging policy as this:

  • to provide transparency about how we charge
  • to offer our clients a choice between us working based on hourly rates and realistic fixed fees
  • to conduct our client’s cases in a reasonable way – where we will endeavour to achieve a fair and realistic outcome which avoids the necessity of contested court proceedings. This means that we will always consider the options of mediation, collaborative family law and arbitration.

We also endeavour to provide an outstanding service to all our clients.