A report by the Legal Ombudsman released today has criticised some divorce Solicitors for charging excessive fees and not being transparent with clients on their divorce costs.
The report highlights some dramatic cases where clients have not received cost estimates or have been overcharged and the Ombudsman has highlighted the problem of the hourly rate system currently used by most Solicitors which can quite quickly rack up legal fees, if the case is not being managed properly.
The pressure on fee earners to charge as much as possible is highlighted and I can confirm that when I was in practice, the pressure from partners to meet targets was often unrelenting, making it difficult not to find ways to charge, when perhaps work was not always necessary.
I had the opportunity of speaking on the report on both BBC Radio Wiltshire and BBC Bristol this morning and gave some helpful advice on how to manage costs in cases where the parties are in dispute and also advised their listeners on the merits of an online divorce in more straightforward cases.
Straight forward divorce cases.
My interview was followed by a local Solicitor who quite casually told the BBC Wiltshire presenter that a basic, simple divorce would be charged at £650 plus vat and court fees. To which the presenter asked why he charged so much divorce costs when Divorce Online could do exactly the same service for £189 including vat. Suffice to say the Solicitors answer was evasive and flustered relying on the fact that most people wanted to see someone face-to-face but could not justify why he was charging so much for an essentially form completion service.
Disputed divorce cases
In disputed cases much of the administrative work should be done by the client themselves such as gathering evidence, completing standard forms, obtaining financial documents and photocopying or outsourced to someone cheaper such as a Paralegal or freelance legal secretary.
Solicitors in my view should really only be used for advising on the merits of a case, preparing for hearings and sending offer letters.
You do not need to use the Solicitor for the whole case, act for yourself but have the solicitor engaged for the parts you cannot deal with. It will save thousands of pounds in unnecessary costs.