More than four out of five divorcees want family law services provided by fixed fees, according to research carried out by Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) to launch a campaign against hourly rates in light of this week’s legal aid cuts.
The online survey follows evidence that providers of divorce advice and representation are increasingly seeing fixed fees as an important differentiator between them and law firms that charge in the traditional way.
Legal Futures has recently reported on unbundling in family law – such as Rotherham firm Oxley & Coward launching a ‘Pay as You Go’ service – a move which is also supported by CLS’s 87 different family law services.
CLS has a detailed tariff (minus VAT) of fixed-fee family services, which includes £175 for a telephone consultation, followed up by written advice and a second telephone call to clarify any issues, or £99 for its basic DIY divorce petitioner package. For an extra £50 CLS will check documents before submission to the court and another £150 will buy an hour’s advice.
CLS is labelling its anti-hourly rates campaign ‘Stop the clock’. Echoing consumer dissatisfaction found in another online survey of family services, the Co-op found nearly a third of people paying by the hour felt unable to query what solicitors were charging for and almost a quarter said they “lost control of the bill”.
It found that nearly one in five divorcing individuals paid over £2,500 in legal costs and 4% paid over £10,000. More than a quarter (27%) said they felt unable to ask their solicitors questions or chase them for fear of increasing the fees and 83% preferred fixed fees.
CLS’s director of policy, solicitor Christina Blacklaws, said: “These individuals are going through major life changing decisions and it’s vital they get the advice they need without worrying about costs spiralling.”
She said the legal aid changes, which from yesterday removed funding for most family services, meant it was “more important than ever that consumers are able to access legal advice and control the cost while doing so”.
CLS’s campaign for fixed fees is supported by National Family Mediation. Its chief executive, Jane Robey, said: “There aren’t many situations where you don’t know the price of something you’re buying so why should legal advice be any different? The fixed-fee model puts the consumer first, and ensures they know exactly what the costs will be from the start without having to worry about an excessive bill at the end.”
More elaborate services from CLS include £475 for a “managed undefended divorce” service, which includes preparing all the papers, advice on timescales and procedure, plus correspondence with the court, the other party or their lawyers. For £950, CLS will prepare a pre-nuptial agreement where assets are under £1m, and for £1,500 it will undertake financial negotiations.
Other services include a ‘living together’ agreement for unmarried couples or couples not in a civil partnership, costing £550, and a parental responsibility agreement where parents are willing to cooperate, for £250. Divorce add-ons include £150 for an interlocutory application and £75 for advising a respondent in respect of a costs hearing.