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

Ian Walker Divorce Lawyer Photo headshotWe are firm believers in transparency about our charges and about legal charges generally.

We have always published our standard hourly rates on our website together with charges for initial meetings both for family law legal services and for family mediation.

We believe that information about price for family law legal services should be available to potential clients to assist them to shortlist potential solicitors to represent them.

We hope the information in this page is helpful when weighing up various information about prices for family law legal services.

Before we can answer the question, what is a fair price to pay for family law legal services? We need to think about what a good family lawyer does and what value their client wants them to provide for them.

The good practice of family law

The successful and good practice of family law is a difficult business which requires skill underpinned by strong and meaningful values.

child with family cutoutsFamily law is about families

Family law is about families. At the heart of families are relationships. These could be relationships between parents and their children or relationships between couples. We deal with relationships which are working (for example when we prepare prenuptial agreements) as well as relationships which are not working (separation and divorce and ongoing problems concerning child arrangements). We also assist parents whose relationships with their children have been impaired by other difficulties (such as drugs or mental health or abuse).

When couples are separating, relationships which needs to be carefully considered are the relationships between (both) parents and their children (including adult children) and wider relationships.

We are all at our happiest when we have a multitude of positive relationships and supportive relationships and when we don’t have to deal with negative relationships.

What future do you want to achieve?

When choosing a family lawyer to represent them – clients need to first think about what they want to achieve. What does the best future look like? Not just for themselves but for important others?

Does a client want the future to involve endless wrangles about child arrangements? Do they want to arrive at a situation where their children are forced to choose sides between parents or become distant or estranged from possibly both parents? (In either the short term or the long run?)

people holding hands team workAchieving a positive future

We believe that clients want to have a positive future. We believe that they wish to resolve issues fairly and, in a child, focused way. We believe that clients are ultimately more concerned about fairness and future happiness than they are about prolonging current disputes.

Clients choose to instruct us because they have been unable to resolve issues themselves and they need assistance. They are stuck in a problem and don’t know how to get through it.

Finding the best way through the current problem is not about one size fits all. The good practice of family law is about trying to understand the client’s needs and wishes and to understand the needs and wishes of others who are important in achieving those outcomes (whether as potential barriers and/or who have a common interest in achieving sensible outcomes).

Family on beach shoreFinding the best way to achieve a positive outcome

The good practice of family law is about identifying and progressing the best process for the client to achieve the best outcome.

In the context of divorce, best outcomes often achieved through the structured negotiation provided by collaborative family law or (lawyer supported) mediation. This is because it is there is usually a long-term common interest in the parties being able to get on with each other (at least to some extent) after the negotiation and legal process has been concluded.

In our experience a divisive court process rarely helped parents get on better with each other. Of course, going to court is sometimes necessary – but even then – pragmatism is important. Costs and bitterness can be built up by becoming embroiled in side disputes – rather than focusing on resolving the main problem.

For example – seeking excessive interim financial support – or avoiding paying reasonable interim financial dispute can lead to additional court hearings and costs. This can increase mistrust and make the resolution of the ultimate settlement more difficult. Equally, not providing full financial disclosure can have the same effect: mistrust, additional applications, additional costs, bitterness.

Getting to the point where informed decisions can be made

Good practice is about taking the minimum number of steps necessary to get the point where fair outcomes can be discussed in an informed way and where all those involved in the negotiations are looking at how win/wins can be achieved, and lose/lose situations can be avoided.

Good practice should give value to a client in maximising the realistic positives and minimising the realistic negatives.

It is in this context clients need to think carefully about which lawyer they would wish to instruct.

What is a fair price to pay for family law legal services depends upon what the client wants to achieve?

Cost is a factor – but value is more important.

It is impossible to give more than a very general and vague cost estimate at an initial meeting. This is because we do not have enough information.

The graphic below attempts to show how costs estimates evolve as a case progresses. By reading this article you are in the zone of broad cost guidance before initial meeting including on our website.

Cost of guidance graphic

Cautious Family Law Cost Estimate after initial meeting

At our first meeting we will be able to give a cautious family law cost estimate. We cannot be overly specific because we need to know more about you and about the other party.

We also need to know the lawyer who is representing the other party (are they easy to do business with or are they unnecessarily difficult and overly litigious?). We also need to know which process will be used to attempt resolve the dispute. This is a joint decision. For example, if the other side refused to negotiate and issue proceedings – then collaborative family law is impossible.

meeting with 3 peopleBetter Family Law Cost Estimate and possibility of fixed fee

Once we get clarity over how the case is going to be progressed and have a better understanding of all the personalities involved, and unclear as to the process which is going to be used to achieve resolution, we will then be able to give a better cost estimate.

We will at that stage have enough clarity that we should be able to offer the option of a fixed fee.

We are conscious that many clients want to have a clear price. This is something which historically lawyers have struggled with (particularly where the legal problem is not a simple transaction) – but we are happy to offer a fixed fee if possible. A reasonable fixed fee can only be worked out when we have enough clarity to be able to reasonably scope the steps and time that are likely to be needed. The clear price should be a fair price.

Updating family law cost estimates as case progresses/Final Fees

Regardless of whether a fixed fee option is chosen, we would provide updating family law cost estimates/ information at least on a six monthly basis.

Ultimately the final costs will only be known at the end of the case.

As a case develops – it could be that the initial family law cost estimate proves to be wrong, and cost estimates need to be revised and ultimately the cost will exceed the initial cost guidance. That situation is hopefully unusual.

Green door and red door choiceBeware of optimistic costs estimates

However, clients should be cautious when seeking cautious cost estimates from different solicitors. Some solicitors may be more cautious in their cautious cost estimate than others!

There is always a danger, that a lawyer will be (not necessarily intentionally) overly optimistic in their initial estimate of fees. This estimate may then rise again, and again, and again – and ultimately the final fees could be greater then they might have been with an alternative lawyer who had been more cautious with their initial cautious cost estimate.

Hourly rates are something to be considered – but it doesn’t follow that these will necessarily give the best indication of the final fees. For example a solicitor on a lower hourly rate could end up doing loads more work (in a litigious and divisive way) than a lawyer who had successfully conducted a principled and sensible and negotiation but charged a higher hourly rate.

The best lawyers do not necessarily charge the highest hourly rates

The hourly rates will be determined by the lawyers firm and its overheads and fee structure.

For example, our overheads are increased by our subscription to what we consider to be the best practice support service for family lawyers. Not all family lawyers subscribe to this. We subscribe to this because we believe that it is fundamental that we are the best lawyers that we can be and ongoing training and support is absolutely fundamental to this.

Within our team, almost all of our lawyers have worked in practices which have a higher charging structure than our own. Are we worse lawyers than we used to be? We think not.

Office photoFree Half Hour Meetings

We would also offer a word of caution about free half hour (or longer) initial meetings.

This is an opportunity for the client to speak with a lawyer. The lawyer will necessarily be reluctant to say too much because if they give poor advice based on limited information and the client acts on this to their detriment there is a risk of professional negligence. Initial meetings tend to be more of a getting to know you and there is a risk that in order to win the instructions that the lawyer may (including unintentionally) provide an overly optimistic indication about costs.

We do offer an initial free conversation – but we are clear that we will not give advice in such a meeting. We offer instead a more structured initial meeting. With the assistance of the SettIfy client engagement tool (which is on our website) we will invite the client to provide us with a substantial amount of background information before the initial meeting. This allows us to read through their information in advance. Spending half an hour asking basic questions at the initial meeting is avoided and we are able to have a much better initial meeting with our clients.

We also assist clients by providing a lot of hopefully helpful information on our website and our lawyer profiles include video clips of our lawyers – so that clients know who their meeting before that meeting takes place.

We also provide information about costs including standard hourly rates and with article such as this – so that we can have realistic conversations about costs from the word go.

jigsaw puzzleIt’s about value – it’s not simply price

Deciding who to instruct is not just about price. It’s about process and outcome and achieving the outcome which gives the best value to the client. Value should be measured in human terms as well as financially.

It’s also about service

Assisting the client through their family law dispute is also about service.

Clients are in unfamiliar and stressful situations when they come to see us. Providing an outstanding service is important to ensuring that the client has the best journey through to their outcome.

Outstanding service means clients need to know that their matter is being progressed and what is going on and why at all stages. Unnecessary delay should be avoided. Calls should be returned. The lawyer should be proactive. Family law costs estimates/ cost information should be updated regularly. Clients should feel that they are being looked after. A fair price includes at least a good service.

We are committed to providing outstanding service. This isn’t empty words. We offer a service guarantee with meaning – which we will discuss with you when we meet.

So, what is a fair price to pay for family law legal services?

The answer is – the reasonable charges of the lawyer who you consider is best able to get you to where you want to go in a reasonable and realistic way. This may not be the cheapest, it may not be the most expensive, but it will be the reasonable charges of the lawyer who is the right lawyer for your case.

A fair price isn’t necessarily the cheapest family law cost estimate

A fair price isn’t necessarily the cheapest family law cost estimate. A fair price is the one which provides the best value to you

Family law cost estimates can be helpful but be careful not to attach too much weight to these