New laws to boost trans­parency

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - SHANE PHE­LAN

Solic­i­tors will have more oner­ous obli­ga­tions to in­form clients about costs when new le­gal ser­vices leg­is­la­tion is rolled out shortly. It is of­ten dif­fi­cult for con­sumers to get an ac­cu­rate es­ti­mate for how much it could cost to bring a le­gal ac­tion.

Law firms and le­gal costs ac­coun­tants can be re­luc­tant to be pinned down to spe­cific quotes as mul­ti­ple fac­tors can im­pact on the fi­nal bill, and not all of th­ese can be ac­cu­rately pre­dicted.

One le­gal costs ac­coun­tant ex­plained to Re­view how in a per­sonal in­jury case fac­tors im­pact­ing on costs can in­clude the amount of de­fen­dants, how bad the in­jury is, how many doc­tors are in­volved, how ex­ten­sive dis­cov­ery is, and whether it is set­tled early or goes to a full hear­ing.

How­ever, un­der the Le­gal Ser­vices Reg­u­la­tion Act, even if the over­all level of fees is un­cer­tain, solic­i­tors will have to list fees which are cer­tain or likely to be in­curred.

Solic­i­tors will also have to pro­vide clients in­volved in pro­ceed­ings with an out­line of the work to be done in each stage of the lit­i­ga­tion process and the costs or likely costs in­volved, in­clud­ing the likely costs of en­gag­ing a bar­ris­ter or ex­pert wit­nesses.

The leg­is­la­tion in­creases obli­ga­tions solic­i­tors face un­der the ex­ist­ing Solic­i­tors Acts and is aimed at al­low­ing clients to make more in­formed choices and avoid be­ing sad­dled with un­ex­pected costs should they lose an ac­tion.

Sim­i­lar en­hanced obli­ga­tions will ap­ply to once-off le­gal ser­vices, such as buy­ing a house or get­ting a grant of pro­bate, where un­ex­pected is­sues some­times lead to ad­di­tional fees be­ing charged.

An­other is­sue con­sumers have had to grap­ple with is that few solic­i­tors ad­ver­tise rates for spe­cific le­gal ser­vices, so the only way to get an idea of the costs in­volved is of­ten to make an ap­point­ment to get a quote.

The Law So­ci­ety is tri­alling a ‘Get a Quote’ ser­vice on its web­site with 200 par­tic­i­pat­ing firms of­fer­ing fee quotes for a small num­ber of ser­vices — buy­ing or sell­ing a prop­erty, mak­ing a will or get­ting a grant of pro­bate.

The so­ci­ety said law firms rarely en­gage in paid me­dia ad­ver­tis­ing as it is not viewed as be­ing cost ef­fec­tive. Re­search by Red C last year found 43pc of peo­ple picked a so­lic­i­tor through word of mouth or a rec­om­men­da­tion.

Re­search by the pre­de­ces­sor to the Com­pe­ti­tion and Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Com­mis­sion in­di­cated it was well worth shop­ping around for le­gal ser­vices, with vast vari­a­tions found in fees charged by solic­i­tors for the same ba­sic ser­vices.

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