We all know the scenario: wife divorcing, two children, the issues to be resolved are simple enough – husband’s pension, joint furniture, destination of the residential property.
These were the sorts of cases we all dealt with routinely on legal aid. The wife may or may not have a contribution to pay but the bill would be assessed and paid out of the wife’s share of proceeds of sale, or by the statutory charge.
Either way, the state would not have to fork out a penny. The bill would likely amount to £3,000 to £5,000, or thereabouts. Job done. What on earth possessed the lord chancellor of the day to cancel legal aid for such cases?
Everything has changed. No legal aid, so the wife has to go it alone (difficult) or pay privately. Herein lies the problem. Costs have spiralled. Hourly rates are between £250 and £300 per hour, plus letters, emails, telephone calls, disbursements and VAT.
Lately I have heard of firms running up bills of £20,000 to £30,000 for such routine cases.
Let us be fair – this is simply milking the cow.
Issues of this sort should never be resolved at such cost. At the end of the day, it comes out of the client’s pocket.
Furthermore, it also engenders ill-feeling and resentment towards family lawyers. Private work can be scarce at these rates, heaven knows, but it can only become scarcer as bad word of mouth goes round. No amount of experience or expertise can possibly justify such charges.
In a recent typical case, parties were arguing over a property worth £280,000 with a mortgage of £120,000, and a modest husband’s pension. Yet the costs spiralled to £25,000.
I understand the ‘buzz word’ regarding costs is proportionality. Too often now these costs are out of all proportion to reality. Family lawyers need to ‘get real’ before they price themselves out of the market.
John Greenwood, Chippenham, Wilts