Price-compare websites would reduce solicitor costs: watchdog
THE competition watchdog is pressing for the use of price comparison tools for legal services in Ireland.
Very often it is hard for consumers to know how much they should be paying for a specific service as law firms in Ireland tend not to advertise their fees.
Although the Law Society has a ‘Get a Quote’ service on its website, with 200 firms participating, this deals only with a small range of services, such as probate, buying or selling a property and making a will.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) is pressing for more movement in this area, with a spokesman saying it believed online comparison tools “can reduce costs and provide enhanced transparency”.
The CCPC has urged the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority to consider how price-comparison tools could operate and to ensure they are a useful and trustworthy source of information.
Price-comparison services are a regulated feature of the market in England and Wales.
The CCPC pointed to research by its predecessor, the National Consumer Agency, which found significant variation in rates charged by solicitors for the same legal services, such as conveyancing, getting a will or a grant of probate.
While there can be significant variations, the Irish Independent found that a typical quote for fees for the purchase of a regular-sized family home in west Dublin was in the region of €3,000 to €3,500.
Out of this, the solicitor’s fee would be €1,500, plus VAT of
€345, with the remainder made up of various outlays such as legal searches and registration fees. These additional sums are not income for the solicitor, but are paid through him or her.
In the area of wills, some solicitors said they would do a will for free for existing clients. Otherwise a straightforward will can be bought for between
€50 and €150 plus VAT. However, the cost can rise to between €250 and €300 plus VAT if there is more work involved, such as setting up a trust for young children.
Similarly, the cost would increase in certain scenarios, such as where there is a child with special needs. Wills involving substantial assets can also cost more.
Fees for getting a grant of probate, the document which gives authorisation to the executor of a will to administer that person’s estate, used to be generally based on 2.5pc of the gross value of the estate.
But solicitors said increased competition meant most firms now charge less. One solicitor with a busy probate practice provided the Irish Independent with a quote that worked out at
1.25pc of the value of the estate. This would amount to €3,000 plus VAT on an estate worth
€240,000 comprising a mortgage-free house and savings.
However, solicitors said many factors can drive up fees for probate work, including a large number of beneficiaries, uncertainty over the location of assets and bad title on land.
The Irish Independent also sought quotes for divorce settlements and found estimates of the costs involved largely depend on how amicable or acrimonious a split is.
Divorce can be relatively cheap if there is agreement on key issues, such as ensuring future financial provision for both parties, custody of children and visitation rights.
One experienced solicitor with a family law practice said it was possible for a client to get a consent divorce for as little as €2,500 to €3,500. But this would be in the rare situation where a childless couple with reasonably similar incomes already have a judicial separation, have sold their home, and have already reached an agreement on who benefits from pensions.
A divorce involving two PAYE workers with a house and pensions, but no other large assets, would generally result in fees between €7,500 and €10,000 for the client, the solicitor said.
But if it were to be argued out, the fees might be between
€10,000 to €20,000.
The solicitor said the cases that “go mental” on fees are contentious ones involving disputes over custody of children and visitation rights, where costs are often more than
€30,000 and €40,000. These are cases where there is no agreement on key issues or one side refuses to engage.